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Lok Sabha elections: In Agra, brand BJP peddles hope amid grim reality

To create and refresh a brand, even a political one, needs constant work by an organisation. To sell the ideas that a brand personifies also requires paraphernalia, including slogans and signature tunes. At Kathphori, a village in the Firozabad Lok Sabha constituency of Uttar Pradesh, efforts are underway to transform a somewhat dented political brand—Prime Minister Narendra Modi—into a harbinger of hope that can continue to attract voters to the BJP.

 Lok Sabha elections: In Agra, brand BJP peddles hope amid grim reality

Representational image. AFP

Dharmendra Kumar, a grocery store owner at Kathphori, is a walking, talking example of how a political organisation can inculcate hope in a man wallowing in hardship, and persuade him that the grim reality surrounding him can be vanquished with his vote.

Dust envelopes the dilapidated streets of Kathphori, where a highway is under construction. Much like his surroundings, Kumar’s future looks shaky. Varsha, one of his five daughters, graduates from college this summer, but he doesn’t expect her to find employment. He has heard of the ruling party’s recent embarrassment—an official report recording a 45-year peak in unemployment.

Nevertheless, he plans to back the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the third consecutive time in the Lok Sabha elections.

“This village has not changed, but it is the country that is my priority in the forthcoming elections,” Kumar says. “When it progresses, so will the villages. Only Modi can make this happen.”

The idea that a BJP led by Modi can trump any rival on the development plank is one that the party is going all out to promote in the region. “Vikas ka mudda and Modi ki yojana (the development plank and Modi’s plan) can challenge any party,” says Surendra Gupta, party spokesperson in Agra.

Agra’s Taj Mahal is just about an hour from Kumar’s village. All across this belt the BJP has been holding dozens of programmes. Earlier this week, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj met the BJP’s “cyber warriors” here and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) held 90 combined shakhas that focused on the Muslim community (one talking point was “foreign invaders”). have been moving door-to-door, checking on the implementation of schemes.

Kumar belongs to the Teli Rathore caste, which comes under the ‘backward’ category. In the state-wide scheme of things, the BJP drew support in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2016 assembly elections from non-Yadav backward group members such as he, in addition to those belonging to upper castes.

Jagdish Singh, Kumar’s friend and also a trader, says, “The unemployment crisis will take ten years to solve. Therefore, Modi needs two more terms.” To them, there is no contradiction in the BJP’s campaign to ‘save the girl child by educating her’ and Varsha’s imminent unemployment. “Not all will get government jobs,” Kumar says.

For the BJP, Kumar and Singh represent voters who have to be taken to the polling booth on April 18 and 24 when the three constituencies in this region—Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Firozabad—are scheduled to vote. It wants more voters like them, who, despite their own suffering, have been persuaded to make sacrifices for their notion of a greater common good.

“We want the voting percentage to rise,” says Gupta. “Our workers are not asking for votes for the BJP but simply that they must vote,” he says.

The canvassing for votes is concealed in the messages being promoted by the BJP. In a series of videos, the party brings up the Air Force’s recent actions in Balakot and the fight against corruption, both key to its campaign. Observers say this election is a battle of chemistry versus mathematics, in which the prime minister faces a numerically powerful opposition.

In 2014, the BJP secured 5.83 lakh votes in Agra and 4.2 lakh in Fatehpur Sikri (Agra rural). The combined votes won by the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) exceeded the BJP’s by roughly 70,000 in Fatehpur Sikri, while in Agra the BJP had a greater vote-share than that of all its competitors together.

In urban areas of this region the party hopes to draw non-Jatav Dalits and retain those Dalit voters who migrated to it from the BSP in 2014. The question is, can the Muslims, a section of the Jats, and the Dalits consolidated around Mayawati’s BSP, counter this?

“Hindutva has undoubtedly split Dalit unity, making them political sub-castes who only unite briefly when there is a crisis,” says Kanwal Bharti, a Dalit thinker and writer. He calls the political splintering of the Dalit identity a “counter-revolution without any revolution” and while he expects the SP-BSP-RLD alliance to perform better than the BJP in the election, “the non-Jatav Dalit vote will remain with BJP”.

The alliance, on paper, has a distinct advantage in Uttar Pradesh, with the caveat that the SP may transfer only 70% of its votes to the BSP. “A strike rate in which Akhilesh Yadav will be better off than the BSP is possible,” says one psephologist.

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Apr 12, 2019 13:02:26 IST

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