All of them touch down from choppers; the gatherings they address are fairly huge and a "gang up" theory is a pet theme. This is about all that there is to the similarities in the campaign thrust of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati.
Into the second phase of polling for UP's big electoral battle, the poll planks of leaders of different political parties has emerged as a study in contrasts.
Bijnor – location of Congress President Sonia Gandhi's rally on Tuesday – presented an unusual sight: An empty podium – remaining empty until the Congress president had climbed atop. Love for the mike is apparently not a failing that Bijnor Congress leaders can be accused of: no welcome speeches, no grandstanding on the virtues of party philosophy; no introduction of the candidates.
While local party leaders are seen staging road shows here and there, the burden of rejuveniating the party's fortunes appears to have fallen entirely on Gandhi's shoulders. By the look of things, the Congress President has not been doing badly. At one meeting after another, her attempts have been to strike an emotional chord with the electorate. Her theme: The descent of UP into a jungle raj and a mafia rule of the last 15 years – as against the period of peace, stability and development of the previous Congress regimes.
Attendance at Gandhi's rallies have been substantial. Mayawati – predicted by pollsters as having the best chance to form the next government – has been attracting lesser number of the minority Muslims in her rallies. Is there an inkling somewhere that the Muslim electorate has begun to re-consider the Congress as an option? This question has often been asked at Gandhi's rallies.
Gandhi's appeal has been to UP's pre-eminent and glorious status – reduced to dust by leaders bent on fracturing the state's polity and society in pursuance of vested interests. It takes years of struggle and sacrifice to have a party like the Congress, she has been saying. In a state divided sharply along caste and communal lines, Gandhi's call has been for the higher ideal.
Mulayam, on the other hand, is seen enacting the role of a generous patriarch – dishing out goodies from for one and all: Crop insurance, loans and free irrigation water for farmers; bigger percentage of government jobs to Muslims; increased pension amounts for those that went to jail during the Emergency; free higher education for girls-- free medical health.
The incumbent chief minister's beliefs apparently rests of this thought: A repeated chief ministerial term can be ensured by extending patronage to as wide a social net as possible.
Netaji – as Mulayam is called – has also come to acquire a taste for stylishness. The threesome of Jaya Bachchan, Jaya Prada and Amar Singh constantly accompany him. His efforts have also been to rope in political leaders from other states including TDP's Chandrababu Naidu or AIADMK's Jayalalitha. The persona as the boss of UP may fail, but not his larger-than-life image as a prospective leader of the proposed third front and potential Prime Minister. So seems to be the thinking governing Mulayam's actions.
"Naach gaane walon ko bhi juta kar bheer ekattha nahin kara paa rahe" (unable to mobilize crowds even after summoning film stars). Reason that BSP leader Mayawati makes such disparaging remarks about Mulayam is this: Her 'connect' with the voters is more stable and secure.
Maneka Gandhi's bastion at Pilibhit – location for Mayawati's rally on Wednesday – provided fascinating insights about the burgeoning power and changing matrix of Dalit politics. With the discipline of army soldiers were these BSP supporters marching towards the rally site – men, women and children --in one endless stream of humanity after another. They were enthusiastic but not boisterous; disciplined and quiet, but not inattentive or disoriented. Breaking out into sporadic fits of slogan shouting was not an activity associated with Mayawati's supporters. They were all foot soldiers that had trudged miles to hear the "behnji" speak.
Contrast this with the chaos of the Indian democracy witnessed at Mulayam's rally at Bareilly last Sunday. After – or even before Mulayam had uttered a sentence, the cheerleaders of the front rows would break out into a frenzy of sorts with their drums and cymbals. They had come there in trucks, buses and tractors. Just as Mulayam was departing, a virtual stampede had ensued – with supporters threatening to pull down the bamboo barriers.
Mulayam promises the world, but Mayawati promises nothing. The BSP leader's mind is focused on a crucial aspect: ensuring that her voters reach the polling booth and are able to cast their votes properly. "Don't light the home fires before casting votes; don't get involved in fights; carry your identification papers and don't get misled by canards that political opponents may spread on polling day" – these are aspects that Mayawati never forgets to emphasise at all meetings.