“It was the greatest Kumbh we have witnessed in our lifetime” said a beaming Ramcharan Nishad who has been a boatman for more than three decades of his life, “I have never seen the pilgrims so happy with their Yatra as they were this time” he claims. This is a claim that is repeated by boatman after boatman in the ghats of Prayagraj. In fact, you will not come across a single individual who doesn’t have something praiseworthy to say about this year’s Ardh Kumbh anywhere in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It seems to have left a deep spiritual impact on the people here.
Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to attend this year’s celestial event, but I have previously been part of two Purna-Kumbhs (that happen once every 12 years symbolizing the end of a Karmic cycle) and do have a firsthand understanding of the milieu in this holy city. In the past, at least, the Kumbh Melas generally left a sense of sadness at the way things were arranged by the governments of the day – lack of cleanliness was a primary problem, also it was very chaotic, especially on main bathing days (the February 10th 2013 stampede on Mauni Amavasya that killed nearly 40 people was a direct result of lack of coordination by the state government).
“Crores of Hindu pilgrims who were used to government’s apathy during the Kumbh Melas in the past, have gone back with great memories this time around” explained a VHP functionary and then added, “the chief minister began preparations for this immediately after taking oath, this was a result of two years of diligent hard work”. Many Sanyasis and yogis that I met also had good things to say about this year’s event, “the respect and honour that was accorded to all the Akharas was unprecedented, we are truly proud of having Modi as our Prime Minister” was how a Yogi from the Niranjani Akhara summed it up.
As Allahabad Lok Sabha seat goes to polls today, the memories of the Kumbh of just a month ago could play a major role for vast number of Hindu voters here. Among the Nishads, for instance, lotus is a huge hit – having interacted with at least 30 Nishads personally, I have not come across even one of them who is not voting for Modi this time, and to think that just last year the Nishads were up in arms against the BJP and were shifting to the Samajwadis in hordes. The Ardh Kumbh has been a game-changer for the Nishad community here.
We are at the tail-end of the 2019 election season with only about 100 odd seats left in play in these last two phases. We have already called this election in favor of Narendra Modi, but these two phases will show us how big the Modi victory will be. Once again, the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh is at the crux of the battlefield. In today’s phase, the sheer arithmetic of the SP-BSP alliance has made BJP’s task that much tougher this time around. Although we must remember that Indian elections are not merely built on arithmetic, even if it is an important factor. For instance, SP and Congress had a combined vote-share of 41% in the 2012 assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh, but when they came together five years later in the 2017 assembly elections, their alliance could not breach 28% – a steep fall of 13%.
The two North-Western states of Haryana and Delhi will also go to polls today. We will be live tracking the 7 seats of Delhi, but unfortunately, due to some technical issues, we won’t be able to live track the 10 seats of Haryana today. Both these states will see triangular contests and are crucial for the BJP. Delhi elections today will also be a measure of how the AAP experiment has fared after five years – it began with a big bang in 2013-14, but seems to have lost steam after the initial promise. Just five years ago, the amount of media space that AAP and Kejriwal occupied was humungous, almost every journalist was talking about Kejriwal being the true equal to Modi.
At the start of April 2014, days before the election season took off, two Reuters journalists had contacted us and wanted us to give them insights about how AAP was emerging as the main challenger in India. When we laughed at their suggestion and told them that AAP was finding it tough to cross the zero mark and at best stands a chance of winning about 2 seats, they were baffled at our data, “But didn’t AAP rise spectacularly in the Delhi election to even form the government?” one of them asked me with incredulity. Many among the western media circles see India through the prism of Delhi and believe a lot of tripe that some of the Delhi media worthies throw at them, very few of the Mark Tully school of journalism kind are left now in India. No wonder then for Time Magazine to give a headline like “Divider-in-chief” with a rather contrived picture of Modi on their cover page.
For AAP though, to fall from that pedestal in 2014 and to be dismissed even by the pliant Delhi media must be like hitting the abyss. Even in Delhi nobody takes AAP seriously anymore. The first reaction of average Indians whenever AAP does something – like say, release that fake pamphlet on Atishi – is to wonder what new drama these buffoons are up to. Almost nobody is willing to suspend their disbelief even momentarily when it comes to AAP; the party and its leader have simply lost the faith of the people.
This is where Modi scores the most points. Most Indians have tremendous faith in the Prime Minister, so much so that it would not be an exaggeration to term the 2019 election as the election of “Bharosa” of voters on Modi. This is what is driving the Lotus everywhere, from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar to Jharkhand to Bengal. In the last of those states, West Bengal, today will probably be another chapter written in history as BJP keeps marching eastwards.
Throughout this election season, Madhya Pradesh is the only state that has given the saffron party something to worry about. Today also is a tough phase for BJP as the Gwalior-Guna belt is going to vote in this phase and we all know how badly BJP had performed here in the Chambal region during the assembly elections only a few months ago. Bhopal also would be a high stakes contest today as former CM Digvijay Singh takes on Sadhvi Pragya, the wronged Hindu priestess who had been converted into an icon of Congress party’s “Hindu terror” (sic) misadventure when they held power for a decade during 2004 to 2014.