He wears a horribly roughed shoe. Scuffed, worn out from miles of walking and weather-beaten.
The dark brown sports shoe carries all the trappings of an intense political campaign. The back almost gone flat with little grip worth its name left, thanks to the constant slipping off and on at the right places to convey the politically right messages.
Indeed, this election is likely to cost Dudhi seven-time legislator Vijay Singh Gaur his shoes. In return, he hopes to retain Dudhi for someone else since he is not fighting this time. Rather, he cannot have fought.
In fact, Gaur’s has been the most annoying of experiences any politician would bargain for. Dudhi is a constituency reserved for Scheduled Caste—a status Gaur enjoyed since 2002 when he won the seat seventh time on a Samajwadi Party ticket.
But, thanks to a central government decision, Gaur now is a Scheduled Tribe, who cannot contest a seat reserved for the SC. Not surprisingly, he is flapping and fluttering in outrage. But there has been no immediate relief.
But, there has been a glimmer of hope with the Supreme Court agreeing to hear his case that he has filed against the Centre's move. Gaur has followed it up with a smart decision. He has arranged Samajwadi Party ticket for protégé Shivshankar Ghasia, who according to Gaur’s supporters, would vacate once Gaur gets a favourable judgement in court.
In case, Gaur doesn’t get any judicial relief, Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) will offer him a berth in the Legislative Council. “But, only if Gaur manages to win Dudhi for someone else, this time,” whispers a supporter.
So, the battle for Dudhi has never been so dicey for the old stalwart. While the stakes for the Congress, BJP and the BSP are high, it is a do or die situation for Gaur, as the outcome here is likely to decide his political career.
Outwardly, Gaur is sitting pretty. He has been the representative Dudhi picked seven times in a row since 1980. In UP, only Congress Pramod Tewari can draw a parallel to Gaur’s feat. His supporters, however, seeks greater recognition for Gaur, as he has won from Dudhi while representing different parties, besides winning the seat as an independent in 1989.
But, then there are snide speculations about people looking for a change in a constituency where electricity—by Gaur’s own admission—is available only for 13-14 hours, and where people live because they have no other options.
“Besides, Ghasia is no match to Guar, who may find it difficult to transfer his votes to him,” said a supporter. “No, we cannot hope for a cakewalk,” Gaur admits as much.
This is not all. The mood of the electorate appears decidedly subdued. The colour and chaos that is so much a part of electioneering is muted. "It hardly feels like an election is on," says Vindamganj resident Md Suhail.
So, Gaur is hard at work, as he tramps down dusty Dighol village streets and inside narrow fields. A handshake here. A quiet word there.
He picks up a little child to offer a candy. He quickly bends through to a low doorway to talk to a troubled constituent. And, of course, the endless pilgrimages into neighbourhood shrines.
An hour later he still tramps along, baking under the hot summer sun. Gaur’s crisp white Kurta has gotten grubby. Some logs out but he trudges on, till walking off into the horizon.
To a future, perhaps.