“Your village is so small, I normally would not have visited this place,” said Varun Gandhi. The BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Sultanpur and sitting MP from Pilibhit, UP, was speaking to a gathering of about 100 people while campaigning in a village in Sultanpur.
“I am going to win whether or not you vote for me,” he continued. “But I would like to win by a historic victory margin of four lakh votes, and I thought you will want me to remember you and improve the condition of your village once I am elected your leader.”
This was the crux of Gandhi’s poll pitch as he criss-crossed his way across Sultanpur to address 25 nukkad sabhas — roadside meetings — in a single day.
“When people ask where Sultanpur is, you have to tell them that it is the constituency neighboring the more famous Amethi,” he told his audiences. “Once I am elected, when you tell people you are from Sultanpur, they will say, ‘Oh! Varun Gandhi’s Sultanpur?’”
After delivering this punch line in his speech at village after village, Gandhi paused, expecting his audience to clap and cheer. But occasionally the crowd was unresponsive, prompting a visibly annoyed Gandhi to ask: “Is there some sickness in this village? Have you not eaten today? Is this how you welcome your leader?”
“I had much more to say to you all, but I think I will move on,” he told the stunned audience before leaving. Back in their cars, in the massive convoy of vehicles that make up part of Gandhi’s Z-plus security detail, his aides went into hushed whispers of how “bhaiyya (big brother) should be more careful about what he says.”
Why doesn’t anyone advise him on this, I asked the gentleman in whose vehicle I was riding. “Will he listen to anyone?” he responded. Thereafter Gandhi’s bodyguard was instructed to subtly signal to the villagers when they were expected to clap and cheer.
Just another day in the theater of the absurd that is the Lok Sabha elections 2014.
A nukkad sabha (street meeting), where a stage was set up and the villagers seated themselves in the shade. About 100-200 people attended these sabhas. During Varun Gandhi’s campaign, these nukkad sabhas were held in remote villages, with no proper roads and accessible only by SUVs.
Nitya Rao is an independent Indian photojournalist based in Boston. She is interested in documenting political and human interest stories, and is currently traveling across India to capture the mood of the country as it conducts its 16th Lok Sabha election. Her aim is to create a traveling exhibit, which will illustrate the changing face of politics in India. Nitya has worked as a reporter for Outlook, The Indian Express and Thomson Reuters, and holds a Masters degree in Photojournalism from Boston University. To find out where she’s heading next follow her @niftyindex