12 September 1999

Elections 1999: Will BJP be cowed by dung in Kanpur?

12 September 1999
The Times of India

Will BJP be cowed by dung in Kanpur?

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

KANPUR: In the political imagination of Uttar Pradesh, gobar (cowdung), has
an oracular significance similar to that of the chapati. During the war of
independence in 1857 in Avadh, it is said that dried cowdung and chapatis
were circulated by the insurgents as a call to arms. But gobar can also be
profane. When Jagatveer Singh Dron, sitting BJP MP from Kanpur, went to the
Gwaltoli locality recently, the residents dragged him into the middle of a
vast expanse of slush and cowdung and told him to say whatever he had to
from there. When this correspondent visited the locality, excited residents
pointed out the spot where the ``terrified MP had stood briefly before
fleeing''. Several people claimed they threw gobar at him. Though the BJP
campaign headquarters denies this, the city certainly believes that the MP
was clobbered. Cowdung may not have flown thick and fast but rumours
certainly have.

In the lower middle class Peeli colony, 201 of the 202 households have
resolved to boycott the elections. Kamala Dixit, who describes her family as
``kattar BJP'', is one of those leading the planned boycott. Roads in the
locality look more like drains. Bal Chandra Mishra, BJP MLA, got the
approach to his house cleaned but didn't bother about the rest, residents
allege. ``The last time the mayor came, the men gheraoed her. Next time, we
women will beat her up,'' said a housewife.

Whatever the BJP's stated achievements at the national level, the average
voter here is primarily concerned about the state of his city. Crudely put,
Kanpur has become the armpit of Uttar Pradesh, a foul and noxious place
where there is virtually no road that is not potholed or marked by
gut-wrenching furrows, where garbage lies piled up at every street corner,
where whole localities have not received a drop of municipal water for

Kanpur has had a BJP mayor since 1996, 11 out of 12 of its MLAs are BJP, as
are all three MPs from the region. Mr Dron, who has been winning since 1991,
is hoping to get elected for the fourth time. What has angered voters,
however, is his stand that MPs should not be blamed for local problems. In
poor and lower middle class areas, the anger against the BJP hits you in the
face. Everyone gleefully narrates stories - some true, many apocryphal -
about how Mr Dron has been chased away from various localities by
broom-wielding women and gobar-throwing urchins.

Of course, there is little enthusiasm for the other parties, although the
Congress, which came third last time, is going to be the prime beneficiary
of the anti-BJP wave. In Muslim and Dalit areas, residents are unambiguous
about their preference for the Congress over the Samajwadi Party and the
BSP. Elsewhere too, the Congress does seem to have built up support, but
again only by default.

Despite this, CPM leader Subhasini Ali warns that the Congress will find the
going tough. ``The upper castes are more than 30 per cent of the population.
And the Congress organisation is weak so they not be able to get out the

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