At a tea-stall in his home district, Deoria, eastern UP, Surya Pratap Shahi, former president of the UP unit of the BJP, said, flashing a video on his iphone: “Look at this. There were 400 people. It was called the Modi-chai party.”
The tea-shop owner, a BJP supporter, had organised the celebration after Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s taunt on BJP PM aspirant Narendra Modi’s origin of being a tea-seller.
“They have gifted us 5-6 million votes with that comment,” said Shahi.
Shahi then narrated an anecdote at the Taj Gateway Hotel, where Varanasi’s elite had gathered on Monday evening for the engagement of the daughter of the city’s BJP mayor, Ram Gopal Mohale. A BJP city leader could not hide his anger at the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
“This is all a Congress plot. Arvind Kejriwal worked with Aruna Roy, who is close to Sonia Gandhi. Yogendra Yadav was Rahul Gandhi’s political advisor till 2012. They are all one group, trying to stop Modi.”
He also lashed out at the electronic media for its AAP coverage. “The media only played his speeches live because of TRP. There was no positive coverage.”
The enthusiasm and the worry best illustrate the cross-roads at which the BJP finds itself in eastern UP. As Narendra Modi prepares to address a rally in Gorakhpur on Thursday, he will have to build on the opportunities and address new threats.
From the lanes of Lucknow to the bazaars on the Azamgarh road, from villages in Pratapgarh to drawing-rooms in Allahabad, voters are discussing him as a possible winner – even if they are not certain how they would vote just yet.
In Dalit-dominated Byaspur village in Chandauli, Chhavinath Prasad told HT, “We will vote for Behenji (Mayawati). But it looks like Modi will become PM.”
The party’s traditional upper-caste base is slowly returning. And Modi’s tea-seller and OBC origins have helped the party make inroads into the non-Yadav backward communities, especially Kurmis. While the party hopes to ride on the communal polarisation in west UP, they hope to pick seats won by the Congress in the north and east.
But replicating the social coalition that brought the BJP to power in the state in 1991 – upper castes with segments of OBCs and Dalits – will be tougher this time around.
For one, while there is a clear impact of Modi, there is no “wave”, says Naresh Chandra Rajvanshi, a senior advocate at the Allahabad high court.
“Caste will remain central. Mayawati will give the ticket to resourceful candidates who bring in their own community votes, and get her Dalit votes transferred. Muslims may be angry with the SP but their priority is to defeat BJP and will back a strong candidate.”