24 May 2024 05:23 AM



The Yogi in Gujarat And Other Travel Anecdotes

SURAT: The elderly Amdavadi gentleman on the near four hour train journey to Surat is itching to talk politics. ‘Kejriwal isn’t coming back in your Delhi, is he?’ he opens immediately after the preliminaries. ‘The Delhi assembly elections are too far away to say,’ is all I can (honestly) say. ‘Now, this is what makes Modiji so clever. He has started preparing for 2019 already.’ To that, I have to agree. If there’s one thing the prime minister and his party chief can’t be accused of, it is being in perpetual electioneering mode and never losing sight of the big prize.

‘He (Modi) is targeting all 80 seats in UP [Uttar Pradesh], I tell you. That’s what will see him through again (in 2019). First, they waived the farm loans. Next, they are going to clear sugarcane (farmers’) dues. Those two things alone will have the public singing bhajans in praise of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party]. And then there is Yogiji tightening the administration. Only good can come of that. I am told government people are being woken up in the middle of the night to attend to public complaints. Kutche-banian mein bhag rahen hai log. That way Yogiji is like Modiji. Na rest karenge, na karne denge.’ He then goes on to blame Sonia (minus the ‘ji’) for not drilling sense into Rahul (‘he really should hand over the party reins to someone else’), moan about how the Congress hasn’t had a proper leader in Gujarat since Madhavsinh Solanki and moan some more about the nondescript current Congress leadership in the state. Somewhere we are also informed that Modiji is the world’s third best leader as per UNESCO.

Modi talk is unavoidable during the next two days in Surat. Not only because this is Modi’s home state and the assembly elections aren’t too far away but also because the city is gearing up for a prime ministerial visit in less than a week. A deal made bigger than usual for some because he is staying overnight.

The themes of the Surat conversations aren’t markedly different from that on the train. And that is curious. Talk of Modi’s tireless ways is expected – it is some sort of an urban legend in this part of the world and almost everyone who has had a chance to engage with the Gujarat government during the Modi years has a tale or two about how fresh the man looked during a (very) late night or (very) early morning meeting and how quickly he grasps the most nuanced of arguments, asks the most pertinent questions during a presentation, etc.,. - but the thrill with which Modi-inspired attempts at tightening the screws on government servants are recounted is a mild surprise. The bigger surprise is how quickly Yogi Adityanath has come to occupy mindspace in Modi’s own Gujarat.

A watchman refuses us parking near a school. Asked why, he cites the priority to child safety in these Modi-Yogi times (zamana). There’s no apparent sense in bringing either Modi or Yogi into the explanation but he does – and does it in a manner that suggests a hyphenated relationship between the duo. The hyphenated relationship may be an isolated view but the man on the train isn’t alone in seeing shades of Modi in the Yogi.

‘I have come to the conclusion that only single men can serve the country selflessly. Look at Modiji, look at Yogiji. They have no family to earn money for or go back to at the end of the day. So, they work and make sure others work,’ says a young executive over tea. I see no point in telling him that Rahul Gandhi is single too.

There’s obviously a whole lot of thrill involved in learning of the trouble Modi-inspired indefatigables are capable of inflicting on government servants. If Adityanath is said to have people scurrying around in their underwear at odd hours across UP, a recent initiative in Surat envisages removing air conditioners from police stations. They are unauthorized, funded via donations and other more suspect means, leading to high electricity bills and, above all, are said to be lulling policemen.

One isn’t sure whether news of the happenings in UP are true (the Surat air-conditioner removal drive is real though and is even being taken forward in other parts of the state) but the screw-tightening has popular resonance and is seen as a signal of a leadership that is driven and committed. Perhaps it only confirms what the demonetization experience has told the BJP. That there’s scope for harvesting electoral returns with even half-baked proposals – as long as they sound tough and seem targeted at a reviled group.

As for the two things seen as impacting the BJP’s chances in the upcoming assembly elections, the common feeling is that the Patidars will be placated (‘nothing that more tickets to Patidars can’t settle’) and the ‘slips’ during Anandiben Patel’s chief ministership forgotten. Yes, the story might have been different had the Congress been in better shape.

Is there an anti-Modi, anti-BJP view at all? It’s difficult to say for the wording is ambivalent and the signals rarely unequivocal. When asked for his take on the air-conditioner removal drive, an academic wryly remarks: ‘If the ruling party is backing it, it has to be good governance.’ The elderly gentlemen’s wife feels Adityanath lacks a yogi’s composure and should never have been made chief minister in the first place but has ‘no complaints against Modiji.’ The young woman, who sits silently through an intense Modi-eulogizing session and intervenes only to point out that the tunnel he has inaugurated recently in Jammu & Kashmir is the Congress’ achievement, carries a large cloth bag with photos of Modi and other Gujarat BJP luminaries.

I don’t even get to see my favorite dissenter. The one who drowns out the loudening train discussion with Vinod Dua’s Mann Ki Baat. She/ he was sitting in the coupe behind.