Sitting in faraway Delhi, it’s impossible to read any connect between Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist pitch and his bid to sell himself as a leader from the backward classes. The mutually exclusive appeals looked a brash attempt at being all things to all people.
How could it work when the fragmenting caste identity is anachronistic to religious identity? The answer lay in voices across the Gorakhpur and Basti divisions. The Hindu pitch consolidated the base the BJP had at the height of the Ram Temple movement. The game plan worked since it mobilised for the party the aggressively vocal Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas and Vaishyas.
Their numbers aren’t quantifiable. But sections among the most backward are as much impressed by Modi’s promise of improving their lives.
“There is a Modi impact, no wave,” said Asif Iqbal, a journalist in Domariyaganj. “Non-Yadav youth from backward communities have jumped on his bandwagon. But that can be offset by the Brahmin vote the BJP might lose to the SP’s Brahmin candidate (assembly Speaker Mata Prasad),” he explained.
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An example of Hindu nationalism playing well with caste appeal is in the growing religious polarisation in adjacent Maharajganj. The cause of the majority’s suspicion is the “sudden-found” prosperity of a section of Muslims. The BJP’s two-pronged strategy has worked because the area bordering Nepal falls on the route security agencies took to bring in Yasin Bhatkal of the Indian Mujahideen.
As the staffer of a vernacular daily explained the situation, Amit Shah’s description of Azamgarh as a terror hub and Modi’s Faizabad address against lord Ram’s image began to make sense. Their tactics of at once stoking aspiration and fear seemed to find traction.
Scientifically unquantifiable assessments of Modi’s value-add to the saffron vote run into thousands. A Congress leader couldn’t hide his admiration of the PM aspirant’s use of technology — which practises no social bias —to reach homes across religious and caste barriers.
"His omnipresence made him the god of development," confessed the Congress leader. “The youth got swayed by the sheer scale of the saffron drama with myriad sub-plots.” But his assessment of Modi fetching his party an additional 1 lakh votes across seats is on the higher side.
The value of the BJP mascot’s charisma could be in thousands, not tens of thousands. Caste remains a formidable barrier in these parts of eastern UP.
Read: BJP plays with caste, religion in eastern UP
Her rock solid Dalit base makes Mayawati a strong claimant to the Muslim vote to push back Modi’s invasion in Maharajganj and Domariyaganj, where Congress renegade and BJP nominee Jagdambika Pal could lose. The SP’s opening in triangular contests is primarily in its administrative clout.
The Congress isn’t a force in both seats it won in 2009. But it is in a good position to retain Kushinagar, where RPN Singh is fighting on the strength of his work. Ditto for Gorakhpur where the incumbent BJP MP, Yogi Adityanath, requires no help to keep the seat.
If Kushinagar, bordering Bihar, goes for the status quo, the credit entirely would be of Singh, the ‘Raja’ of Padrauna. But Modi’s caste card has impacted his fellow kurmis. A sub-caste among his clansmen — the Sentwars — are lending ear to the BJP’s promise of job-intensive development.
Voices varied at a tea shop in the Hata assembly segment RPN won five years ago. But the consensus was that Modi’s multi-media assault — coupled with anger against the governments in Lucknow and Delhi -- helped him capture the imagination of youth across identities, minus perhaps the Muslims and Dalits.
“RPN is my caste. But national mood demands that we give Modi a chance,” reasoned Ambesh Singh. “Modi lehar is like the Ram lehar of the 1990s,” said Pratap Narayan Singh, a Sentwar.
“I’m confident because I have delivered on my promises,” RPN told HT. He has also matched his campaign with the BJP’s, booking jacket advertisements in local papers a day after Modi’s proposed May 10 rally. The constituency is flooded with pocket-sized booklets detailing projects he brought to Kushinagar.
If RPN beats Modi, he’d beat him on his own ground.