By Alka Pande
Lucknow: A pair of snakes made of silver buried under the ground to ward off evil; a vaastu-compliant stage; astrologers calculating the auspicious time for the big event; and priests propitiating deities - the BJP is leaving nothing to chance for Narendra Modi’s rally in Kanpur. Of course, it is not all superstition and dubious science. Ten days before the mega rally, named Vijaya Sankhanaad, the party created a Facebook page ‘modifyup’ and also launched a website with the same name. Both are exclusively devoted to the rally and information and updates related to the event. There would be a large number of LED screens at the venue and a sophisticated audio system.
It is a picture of sharp contrasts, a bizarre mix of the archaic and the modern, superstition and science. But the contradictions don’t come as a shock in traditional Kanpur -- the BJP has always been like that. What people are really keen about is the big man, Modi. They have heard a lot about him already, but listening to him directly, they feel, would be an experience like no other.
"I am keen on listening to Modi because I feel he can bring that progressive change in India which has never been seen in the history," avers Tanmay Pradeep, a student of Law. Tanmay will vote for the first time in 2014. It is this excitement among the youth and the first-time voters that the BJP wants to harvest. "The aim is to reach at least five lakh youth through Facebook, Twitter and other social media," says Vijay Bahadur Pathak, the party spokesperson. To ensure that Modi's message reaches out widest in this segment, the party has trained a team of 150 workers who would be equipped with laptops and mobile phones.
The organizers have planned a separate gallery for the youth close to the dais where Modi would be speaking and would distribute a large number of passes for students from premier technical institutes. The content of the speech of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate would be dominated, as usual, by youth-specific issues such as unemployment and education. The BJP wants to cash in on that.
However, youth are not the only focus of the rally. The party wants to flaunt its Muslim-friendly face here too. Aware that the Hindutva card won't take it anywhere near 57 parliamentary seats it won in 1998, the BJP the party is trying to project a secular image of Modi. However, the strategy party has adopted is different from that of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress. It is citing the Sachar Committee report to claim that Muslims are better off in Gujarat in education and employment in comparison to many other states in the country.
"SP and Congress are indulging in appeasement which has irritated the educated class in the community. They are feeling frustrated whereas we are stressing on development for all which also includes Muslims," says Pathak.
The strategy is getting the desired result. Muslim leader Maulana Mahmood Madani, of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, has already stated that the so called secular parties should not generate a Modi scare. Rather than seeking negative votes, the parties should highlight the development work they have done for Muslims, he has said. Madani’s arguments have been endorsed by another leader Maulana Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali. Grasping the shift in situation, even SP leader Shivpal Singh Yadav has said that his party would go to the polls with the agenda of development and progress in the state.
"This Modi scare is created by parties which are threatened by development in Gujarat. Think of it, the Muslims in Gujarat are not crying hoarse against Modi. It is only because they are very much a part of the development process there," says Rumana Siddqui, the president of the state BJP Minority Cell. She says the party would tell the public that no riot has taken place in Gujarat after Godhra whereas states ruled by other parties are constantly facing communal riots.
The BJP, under Modi, is wooing hard the Muslims for votes while the wider Sangh Parivar has an agenda that is clearly anti-Muslim. The contradiction is too stark to miss. But again, who said parties cannot live without contradictions.