Against the overhang of the magnificent red sandstone edifice of the Agra Fort, Bobby has been selling bananas from his cart for 30 years. He’s got no benefit from the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party-dominated government: No medical insurance, no Mudra Yojana, no gas connection….
The sun is blazing down, the asphalt on the road is melting, but all that doesn’t seem to bother him. He has unshakeable confidence that not only will the Modi government return to power, but that it should. Why? “If there is no Modiji, this nation will crack up into millions of pieces,” he says. “Modiji speaks of rashtravad (nationalism) so he will get my support.”
Just beside him, Kishore, who sells kulfi falooda from a similar cart, agrees. Like Bobby, Kishore too has got nothing from the government. “I have a gas connection so I did not apply for one. I haven’t got a government loan, though I did hear the government had announced a pension scheme for small traders like myself. But most of all, we admire Modi for his nationalism,” he says.
Nearby, a gentleman with jet back hair but just two front teeth who is listening to the exchange interrupts indignantly: “Loan? What loan? Show me one person who has got a loan? On the contrary, the bank keeps cutting money from my account without any reason. And Modi? He doesn’t even accept his wife and family publicly. What kind of man turns his back on his wife?” he interjects. The other two stay quiet out of deference to his age, ignoring the liberal use of expletives. “I am a Congressman and I will vote for the haath,” he says.
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A few footsteps away, a small party of people is walking into a park. It is Ambedkar Jayanti. The women are colourfully dressed up, all in ink blue down to their nail polish, the signature colour of Ambedkarites all over India.
The small walkway is festooned with blue fairy lights, which will be lit up when the sun goes down. Visitors must take off their shoes to enter the enclosure that houses a black statue of Dr Ambedkar resplendent in his suit and jacket.
Arun Soni is a businessman who has come to pay respect. With him is a band of young men, all dedicated followers of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). They are articulate, logical and brimming with resolve.
Agra is a reserved constituency for the Scheduled Castes. Ramchandra Katheriya, who was ‘lent’ to the BJP from the RSS, is the outgoing MP who has been shifted to Etawah. The nomination has instead been given to SPS Baghel, who, the BSP supporters claim, is not even from the Scheduled Castes but is an OBC. Their observation indicates how deep social divisions go.
In this context, how will the coalition between the Yadavs and the Dalits — or the alliance between the BSP and the SP — ever work on the ground? When the Yadavs are acknowledged to be the biggest oppressors of the Dalits. They all look a bit sheepish but are at pains to emphasise that the middle-level leadership of the two groups is collaborating with each other.
“When Behenji sought our views on the issue, we told her she must go ahead,” they said, conceding the decision wasn’t easy to take and acknowledging that sooner rather than later, they might have to withdraw from the coalition.
“But for now, it (the coalition) is necessary for our survival. If we let Modi continue, India will be divided,” one of them says dramatically.
If Modi is charged with divisive politics, Yogi Adityanath is the real target. “Agra is such an important city. There is no international airport although we were promised one. There is no big health facility. The city is just a conglomeration of slums. And when you consider Yogi Adityanath’s provocative speeches, you have to ask yourself if he is making them because he does not want to acknowledge the lack of vikas here,” says one.
“We know the SP-BSP coalition will win here. And Akhilesh Yadav will step aside to crown Behenji as India’s first Dalit Prime Minister,” says one.