3 am, sitting outside a roadside maggi/cigarette stall with a friend. Mild winter hue in the air, half torn, giant dark orange coloured trucks passing by. Neon-marked hoardings of a local private engineering college, simmering with rain washed roads. The Grant Trunk Road.
I shout from the passenger seat right out of the window,
"yaar ek mild lao.."
My friend half annoyed, "abey yaar.. mild mat piyo yaar.. doo regular lao"
sanjay, the stall owner, giggling, asked, "aur kuch chahiye bhaiya..?"
"bass yaar.. aur sunao? kya haal..?"
"wahi sab.. Akhilesh ko aana thaa, toh iss chakkar mein sadak ki saari dukaane hata di.. mera bhi bohot saaman barbaad ho gaya..!", Sanjay exclaimed in a depressingly low tone.
"parr woh toy aaya hi nahi naa?…", I remarked.
"nahi aaya bey.. saala pura sheher sajaa tha uske liye aisa lag raha thaa.. parr aaya hi nahi.."
"kyon nahi aaya..?"
"..yahi toh baat hai bhai.. sapa hai.. kuch bhi karo.. madame ne mana kar diya hoga.."
"… haah.. aur master...kiske liye vote karoge iss baar?"
"aaahaaa… iss baar modi bhaiyya ki sarkar banegi.."
"… haan bhaiyya.. modi bhaiyya ko aane do… ab doo daam liya karunga maggi ke.. 25 aur unke liye 35…"
"….abey mama log aa gaye..(a respectful reference for police men)"
Sanjay, a 16-17 year old maggi/cigarette seller. A popular over night place for medical college students and local car drifting insomniacs. Police jeeps on patrolling duty during night hours, stop often. Eating for free, not missing a chance to ruffle them up once in a while. Sanjay has to tip them off a little then and now, and he gets to keep his stall. Recently two zonal cops put him behind the lock up for two days. He told us, he was using a stolen phone, that recently one his regular late night customers had sold it to him. That guy has not shown up since then.
Sanjay works all through the night, making endless maggi and bun-omlettes. His entire family works at his stall. Father attends to the customers that park right in front of the stall, and prefer the service in the car. Mother taking care of the cigarette 'gumti' stall, while simultaneously taking care of boiling tea on the little stove. The above mentioned conversation took place in late september, last year. The family moved from Banaras to Kanpur three years ago, and came to echo the surging ground swell for the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. But much before this kind of ground support for Modi could be witnessed on the streets in the Hindi heartland, BJP's district units were tirelessly at work.
Having stayed in Kanpur for 18 long years, my idea of Ganesh Chaturthi was limited to its dramatic representation in movies and soaps coming out of Bombay. This year, the narrative was testify-ably different. On the day of the festival, the entire city was blocked by hundreds of processions moving towards the banks of Ganga. Every corner street was marked by a separate group of men and women, carrying their own little 'Ganesha.' The city traffic was brought to a stand still. Most of these processions were marked by a fringe of young men, raging to Salman Khanised DJ music, throwing colours on anybody and everybody as they went along.
How in this world a Maharashtrian festival become so popular up here, in this interior Uttar Pradesh hinterland? It's not that surprising an avenue in today's world, given how a 'Spanish Tomato Festival' became a regular event in Bangalore, after being featured in a popular Hindi movie. But these many people celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi? Hundreds of them, all over the city. Stopping by a little cluster of mud walled houses, 'gulaal' drenched men sat outside their houses. While talking to some of them, one of them indicated, "money had been given out, for them to arrange for all the festivities. Lots of money, in lots of different 'bastis'. It is an Hindu festival after all…"
Talking to another group of rather excited young men, while they danced freestyle to ear drum destroying, swanky tunes, coming out of rented speakers. As their procession moved ahead, blocking one of the centre crossroads of the city, I managed to hang onto three of them. Half interested in my questions, one told me, "it is Hindu power show… our time is coming. Modi will come this time."
Profane slogans, addressing to the rabid lovers of Hindutva, could be found painted on discreet corners. I found some deeply provocative ones, painted all across the walls of 'Shamshan Ghat', a river side cremation place for Hindus. Just almost a month after the Muzaffarnagar riots, the social fabric of the city was not at its best. Kanpur, like many other UP cities, has had a distressing history of communal violence. Though, no signs of violence were reported as of yet, Kanpur, much like other UP cities, was making a case of top down polarization.
I visited Kanpur again during my winter break, by the end of December. The momentum seemed to have changed a bit. Roadside conversations with BJP supporting men, were way more Modi centric. Unsaid communal tensions had subsided, and the popular discussions featured Arvind Kejriwal as much as Modi, if not more. Talking to a local BJP MLA, who then, was a probable for getting the Lok Sabha ticket from Kanpur. He told me, it is going to be tight. The muslims will vote for the incumbent Shriprakash Jaiswal. Accusing the latter of bribing Mayawati in 2009. When Mayawati, replaced the local BSP candidate, a popular Muslim leader. Resulting in an almost complete swing of Muslim votes towards Congress. Kalraj Mishra was strongly rumoured to be the other candidate, who could be given the ticket to contest from Kanpur. The earlier mentioned BJP MLA remarked to me, "He is also asking the party for the ticket. Lets see. He's not a real people's leader."
By almost end of March, Modi was finalized to contest from Banaras. Murli Manohar Joshi, having to making way for Modi in Banaras, was asked to contest from Kanpur. Early on, in his campaign in Kanpur, Joshi was greeted with protests from factions of local BJP men. There was a certain dissentment being reported from Kanpur, relating to the non local nature of Joshi, topped with his image of a non performing Member of Parliament. Though, many supporters believed, candidate was a non issue. 'People are going to vote for just Modi.' And Joshi was a prestigious candidate, they said, inflating their sense of city-hood pride. With Shriprakash Jaiswal and M.M. Joshi, it was set to be one of the most anticipated contests.
Just as Kanpur was about three weeks from polling, fresh communal violence erupted on the occasion of Ram-Navmi. Strange events, strange happenings. March 16th will tell, if Kanpur accepts a migrant candidate from Banaras, Joshi, much like a migrant Sanjay.