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
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
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.