Set the Polls A-Flut­ter

Get heart­felt in the heart­land and en­counter vot­ers and non-vot­ers of In­dia’s largest—and most un­pre­dictable ally tion s? mun elec Com rise d you pola tell poll me first Let my ... abo ut duty cial spe

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

Ifirst saw Shah­dat Ali five min­utes­be­foreIwalkedup to speak to him. He looked self-im­por­tant enough, strut­ting around in his white kurta,saf­fron waist­coat and turned-around heavy wrist­watch.“Dekh,kid­her­sechidiya udke ayi hain (Check out those bird­sthathave­flown­in­from­some­where),” he said aloud to a bunch of young­sters af­ter he had given us a swiv­el­ling stare. The young men lolling about at the en­trance of the Is­lami­aDe­greeCol­lege,on­ce­upon a time the An­glo-Is­lamia Col­lege, in­Muzaf­far­na­gar­town­didn’tgive him, lo­cal BJP sec­re­tary – or us – much im­por­tance. Cross­ing a bad­minton court framed by fat pink roses, the over­whelm­ingly vis­i­ble Mus­lim vot­ers were lined up, dis­ap­pear­ing into the ground floor class­rooms and com­ing out again as if out of a dar­gah. Most of the women were in their finest black, not plain Jane burqas, but ei­ther dot­ted with se­quins or black bro­cades. A group of young women, with only their ex­cited eyes show­ing, came out. “Ka­mal pein but­ton da­bana,” (Press the but­ton on the lo­tus) one of them said. Tit­ters fol­lowed as if they­had­just­come­out­ofthe­n­earby Brij UFO Dig­i­tal Cinema dis­cussing an SRK scene. Un­like them, Ali was a s e r iou s man. On a sk i n g h i m how things are pan­ning out for his party in Muzaf­far­na­gar, he takes on the neta pose – hands locked be­hind­hiskur­taand look­ing down on the ground be­fore speak­ing – and says, “BJP, hun­dred per cent. Peo­ple un­der­stand that for de­vel­op­ment to come here, some­one has to have a di­rect con­nec­tion with the Modi govern­ment.” A cou­ple of young­sters sud­denly popped up be­side him and one­ofthemtellsme,“Arey,he’sour bade bhai (big brother). What­ever he says, we’ll lis­ten. But here, cy­cle [Sa­ma­jwadi Party elec­toral sym­bol] is go­ing to win!” Ali, mod­er­ately un­ruff led, ex­plains how most Mus­lims in Muzaf­far­na­gar will in­deed vote for the SP-Congress al­liance, leaving Mayawati’s BSP in the lurch. But could he ex­plain why none of the ma­jor par­ties has se­lected a Mus­lim­can­di­dateina­town­that has a 41.39% Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion go­ing by the 2011 cen­sus? “That you will have to ask high com­mand,” he says mean­ing­fully. Ali then re­alises that I wasn’t only ask­ing him about his party, so he adds, “Well, there hasn’t been any­one from the Mus­lim com­mu­nity who has stood out for this elec­tion.” One of the young­sters whizzes by again, laugh­ing, “Not even you Sha­dat-bhai?Why,youshould­have been a can­di­date!” Our lit­tle chat over, Ali folds his fin­gers and says a very Ra­mand Sa­gar-in­fused, ‘Na­mashkar.’ The sky­line above the dusty ground out­side the Is­lamia De­gree Col­lege tells its own story. On the left are fa­cades of open-bricked build­ings, on top of each roof flags flut­ter­ing as if it is manda­tory to flut­ter ev­ery elec­tion day. I spot two Congress flags near a mul­ti­tude of SP ones. A giant washed-out green spaceship of a wa­ter tank takes up a large part of the sky to the left of a green-and-white domed mosque with two minarets that hold two giant -and, as of now, silent – loud­speak­ers. Then sud­denly, you catch left of the spaceship-wa­ter­tank a re­bel­lious voice: a deep blue BSP flag. To see an ele­phant flut­ter against Muzaf­far­na­gar's sky blue sky is both a strange and won­drous sight. Dharam­pal Pur­bia and his pla­toon are tuck­ing in dal and roti by the dozen at Ba­jrang Dhaba. They are be­ing despatched for 'chu­nao duty' to Hard­war when Ut­tarak­hand joins UP for one day on Fe­bru­ary 15 to play the polls. Pur­bia and his po­lice­men are part of five pla­toons from Udaipur in Ra­jasthan. So it's no won­der that they are emp­ty­ing out the dabha on the Na­tional High­way 58. A large man, he is im­pres­sive not only by the way his ju­niors treat him with cam­er­aderie, but also by the way 'Com­man­der-saab' man­ages to never wet his thick mous­tache each time he pushed in a sound bite of daal­drenched roti. His first elec­tion duty was dur­ing the 1984 Lok Sabha elec­tions, less than two months af­ter Indira Gandhi's as­sas­si­na­tion. “That time they were killing Sikhs,” he says, try­ing to make the si­mul­ta­ne­ous point that he wears enough poll duty bat­tlescars as well as that to­day's 'com­mu­nally-charged' elec­tions aren't new or one po­lit­i­cal

‘Com­man­der-saab’ wears enough poll duty bat­tlescars, and booths in Hard­war will surely see no foul play

party's mo­nop­oly.

I sense he wants to tell me more sto­ries from 1984 as he of­fers me to join him and his boys for lunch. I po­litely de­cline. Polling sta­tions in Hard­war, I am pretty sure, will see no foul play on Wed­nes­day.

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