Here it is.... not even a few hours in circulation and so much hate mail already! Kadwa sachh??
Gujarat’s Gudiya is dancing into people’s hearts…
I was in Modi-land ( not to be confused with Lego-land) last week, just to check out how ‘vibrant’ Gujarat really is. Narendrabhai did not send me a text message that read ‘Swagatam’. He reserves that for Ratan Tata. However, his presence was everywhere…. and any attempt to engage the otherwise garrulous Amdavaadis in a frank conversation about the man was frustrated… even stonewalled. Narendrabhai has his eyes and ears all over the place and people are plain scared to as much as take his name in vain. It reminded me of the Emergency during which even the swaggering netas of Delhi had turned into mice, and would refuse to utter Sanjay Gandhi’s name without lowering their voices and looking furtively over their shoulders. It was no surprise then that the two bhais ( not the Dubai variety), who had come to the airport to fetch me, giggled like nervous schoolgirls when I asked them their reaction to Modi’s ‘Budhiya-Gudiya’ remarks. They looked at each other uncertainly, and answered together, “ It is okay…nothing wrong.” The driver of the car added his two bits’ worth and shook his head from side to side parroting, “ Absolutely nothing wrong…”
I was scheduled to meet the local Gudiya – Mallika Sarabhai, the next morning, and trek to some distant village to watch the Natrani in action. My minders were scornful, “ Why waste your time? Nobody else stands a chance in Gujarat. Only BJP .” I rang Mallika at around 10pm to confirm our programme for the next day. She sounded her usual, cheerful self, though a bit exhausted. The stillness of the night combined with soaring temperatures (44 degrees and climbing), accounted for the strain in her voice. “ So… how’s it going?” I asked, “ How’s Amma?” I have always adored Mallika’s incredible mother, Mrinalini, who is well into her nineties and still very much a babe. “ It’s going great! Amma has only been wearing my colours – purple, red and white, ever since I announced my candidacy,” Mallika confided with an indulgent laugh. That’s my girl. Her entire family is engaged in the “ Vote for Mallika’ effort. Her daughter Anahita handles internet marketing, her son Revanta designs the posters, mailers and graphics, while her “ very, very ex” (as she put it), Bipin bhai, former husband and current business partner, has taken over the logistics department of her colourful campaign.
Mallika tells me with a wry laugh that the village of Palodia, where we are to meet, is not all that far from the city (around 40 kms ), but has been so horribly neglected by successive governments, that the last politician to be seen alive there by village elders was Mahatma Gandhi!! This I had to see. Once my SUV hit the road to Gandhinagar, I found myself thinking, ‘Must hand it to Modi…. this is perhaps the best road I’ve ever been driven on in India.” My over-enthu driver ( a real Modi chamcha), kept singing the man’s praises and giving him credit for the stupidest signs of ‘progress’ along the route. But the minute we slid off that silken road and onto the dirt track leading to Palodia, the story changed dramatically. It was pathetic and embarrassing to see such backwardness and abject poverty – nothing but nothing had changed for those desperately poor people in 62 years. Modi is the richman’s leader – all the sethlog in Gujarat love and support him. He has made them richer and fatter. Their lives are certainly very ‘vibrant’ in Modi’s zamana.But the rural, wretchedly poor, remain where they’ve always been – in the gutter. There wasn’t a nullah in sight in Palodia, and the stench of human and animal waste overwhelmed the senses enough to make one recoil and retch. Mallika didn’t seem to be affected by the filth, as she briskly went from one hut to the next, removing her mojris before entering the homes of toothless crones sitting around listlessly in the fetid heat. A lone drummer preceded the rag tag army of volunteers working tirelessly for their candidate. Mallika spoke to the women in their dialect and made no grandiose promises. She assured them that the least she could (and would) do to improve their miserable lives was to provide a nullah and safe drinking water. They stared at her impassively…kids and young brides giggled when she pointed to her symbol ( a harmonium, appropriately enough).Mallika urged them to come out and vote on the 30th. They giggled some more. Later, I asked them if they’d heard of L.K.Advani – Mallika’s adversary. Blank. Narendra Modi? Blank again. Perhaps, this ‘gudiya’ stood a chance, after all?? They had met her in the flesh. At least she wasn’t the ghost who walks. I asked Mallika whether she really believed she could defeat the mighty man. “ Why not? My constituency extends over 90 square kms after delimitation. It is huge. There are 16 lakh registered voters. I plan to cover every inch of the territory and convince people about my ability to deliver. And to do so without bribing anybody with mangalsutras and money, as Advani’s men have done. I have declared that I spent 3 lakhs on my campaign so far. The others claimed they’d spent 50,000!!” Mallika is a feisty woman. This Gujju Guidiya is determined to put up a fierce fight, harnessing all her resources along the way. With her business management degree ( a doctorate , too) and grass roots level activism via street plays, she is nobody’s toy. Modi’s followers had dubbed her “ a whore of the Muslims’, post-Godhra, and have been baying for her blood since. The richie rich in Ahemedabad ( Modi’s loyal serfs) hate her guts and shun her socially. The outcaste status rather suits Mallika. At 54, she is an extremely attractive woman, capable of reducing grown men to mush in her formidable presence. Articulate, arrogant and argumentative, she is aware of her privileged position and is prepared to pay the price for other people’s prejudice. Taking on Advani is her biggest gamble yet. She knows that if she pulls it off ( miracle of miracles), she will be creating history. She has done her sums and is counting on the 10% swing to scrape past the man whose last ditch efforts to woo his constituency may see his long cherished dream of becoming p.m. finally come true. Political pundits see that as a given and insist Mallika will lose her deposit. But I happen to like the tale of Goliath. And I hate masks. Mallika’ s supporters don’t wear masks. This is a big plus in her favour – there is nothing to hide.Even if she does lose her deposit, I get the feeling she will go back to Palodia and give them the promised nullah. If she indeed does do that, she will have won yet another diehard fan – me! I for one will take her even more seriously… and like amma, wear red, purple and white to let her know I love her.