Hema Malini Isn’t Cut Out For Politics, But That Doesn’t Matter In Mathura Which Is Voting For Modi
The RLD fielded a Thakur candidate from Mathura thinking that with over 3 lakh Jats and 2.5 lakh Thakurs, plus the minority votes, the gathbandhan would be able to wrest it from the BJP.
However, Hema Malini is all set to win Mathura, again.
Mathura, the birthplace of Bhagwan Krishna was no exception to the Modi wave that swept across the country in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had airdropped Bollywood star and veteran actor Hema Malini into Mathura to contest the Lok Sabha polls on the lotus symbol. Riding on the coattails of Modi’s popularity, Hema Malini reached the Parliament’s lower house for the first time by trouncing Choudhary Charan Singh’s family scion Jayant Choudhary by a margin of over three lakh votes.
None of this was surprising. However, what surprised many was the fact that the party decided to repose faith in Hema Malini again to win this seat for the party in 2019. She isn’t a typical politician who visits her constituency often, nor does she have an ear to the ground to understand the problems of her constituents, 70 per cent of whom live in rural areas. And unlike the prosperous sugarcane belt that is the upper half of Western Uttar Pradesh, this region is poorer.
People in such areas have very high and unreal expectations from their local representatives, from getting their legal disputes settled, to visiting them in times of personal loss, to helping them get jobs and whatnot. Under such circumstances, giving a ticket to a person like Hema Malini - who is seen as cold and aloof to the common man’s trials and tribulations - was a big risk taken by the party perhaps in the hope that the prime minister’s charisma would help overcome anti-incumbency of the candidate.
Ever since Hema Malini kick-started her campaign she has become the butt of memes on social media. The dream girl became drama girl for the Opposition as her photos riding a tractor and carrying harvested bundles of wheat went viral. To make matters worse, when asked what work she has done for Mathura as an MP, she said, “I have done a lot of work for Mathura but I don’t remember much.” A rookie politician, no doubt.
Yes, she isn’t a seasoned politician who can blend with the aam aadmi easily. She is a star and she likes to keep her distance from the crowds. She isn’t made for the hustle-bustle of electoral politics that demands representatives to be always a phone call away whenever and for whatever trivial reason their constituents need them.
Hema Malini is nothing like that. That’s why the common refrain one hears on the ground from Modi supporters is, “The candidate doesn’t matter. Vote is for Modi.”
“No one is voting for Hema. Everyone understand this is an election for the prime minister. We are keeping that in mind,” says Kapil Gujjar, a youth resident of Kosi Kalan, a small town in the Chhata assembly constituency. His father, Sukhvir Gujjar, lists various developmental works that have made their life a tad better. “Though the reason to vote for Modi is in national interest, we have witnessed good governance. New roads have been built, old ones repaired. The biggest improvement has been on the electricity front. Earlier, we used to get power for only six to eight hours, even in the town. Now, there is power cut for only two hours,” he says as he confidently assures us that in the 18 Gujjar villages in the constituency, an overwhelming majority of the people are with Modi.
Abhay Garg, who runs a furniture shop on the old GT road in Kosi Kalan, also highlighted the improvement in infrastructure. “Eighty percent of the town will vote for the BJP. Even some Muslims and Jatavs are leaning towards the party,” he tells me.
In a Jatav colony on the same road, near the Police Chowki, we talked to a group of seven people, most of them youth, at Harprasad Jatav’s tailoring shop. “Modi is running a good and clean government. Tax collection has improved a lot thanks to GST and notebandi. This revenue will create new avenues for it to spend on the welfare of the poor,” says Harprasad. “Due to huge improvement in power supply, I am able to work long hours due to increased efficiency. Fan works all day long. It’s a big a relief in this sweltering summer,” he adds. Though this tailor is with the BJP, he tells us that 80 per cent of his fellow Jatavs are leaning towards Mahagathbandhan’s candidate because Mayawati is part of the alliance.
“Everyone of us have got money for toilets. Yes, we got Rs 8,000 instead of Rs 12,000 that we were supposed to receive but these local officials are corrupt. It’s not Modi’s fault. My vote is for him,” says Manish Jatav. Satish Jatav, another youth, recognises the good work done by the government, especially the “increase in power supply from six hours to 22 hours” but he will still not vote for the BJP. “What’s the use? Last time we voted but no one believes us. Local BJP leaders say to our face that we can never vote for anyone except BSP,” he laments as others in the group second his reasoning.
In Chhata, it’s hard to spot a RLD voter. The party has fielded Kunwar Narendra Singh, a popular local leader from Jadon Thakur community. But the electorate in this town, cutting across caste lines, is cheering for the prime minister.
Brajesh Varshney, a deed writer, tells us that Modi’s policy of putting a limit of Rs 2 lakh in cash transactions related to property deals has hurt his business. “Yes, my business has suffered but my country will benefit in the long run because due to payment in cheque now, there would be a clear proof of transaction. This will reduce litigation and help avoid clashes between people,” he explains.
Two Thakurs from Dalauta village who are sitting in Varshney’s open-air chamber are divided. “Kunwar saheb is from our biradri. In my village, most are supporting him,” says Ashok Kumar who is immediately countered by Dayaram. “He won’t get even 30 per cent of votes even from Thakurs in our village. His own brother is campaigning against him,” Dayaram informs. RLD candidate Thakur Narendra Singh’s brother Manvendra Singh, a former Congressite, is a three time MP from Mathura, who has now joined the BJP.
The Congress has fielded Mahesh Pathak but the party has hardly any takers in Chhata. Ashish Sharma, another deed writer, tells us why. “His image is that of a cheater. He takes loan from the banks, opens factories, then shuts shop after losses mount. Be it power plant or agro mill he set up, all his ‘businesses’ have met the same fate. Thousands have lost jobs,” Sharma says.
In Sharma’s chamber, Ashok Chaudhary and Chaudhary Mahaveer, both Jats, say they voted for BJP last time and would do so again. “Here RLD doesn’t have that kind of hold it has in Baghpat or Shamli among Jats. We are nationalists,” Mahaveer tells me.
Advocate Shiv Singh Chaudhary, a resident of Nangla Thok area, a Jat colony inChhata, informs me that Jats of Chhata wanted RLD to ally with the BJP, not SP-BSP. “Over 500 people had gone to meet Jayant and requested him to merge the party with the saffron party but he didn’t listen. Rajnath Singh kept sending them feelers till the last moment,” he says.
In Nangla Thok, we meet another group of seven people, most of them Jats. “Just look at MP. They [Congress] got the power only three months back and in raids the agencies recovered Rs 280 crore from them. Congress means corruption,” Roopchand Chaudhary says. “In this whole colony, I can count on my fingers the number of people who are with RLD. Out of 250 people I know, only three such specimens are there,” Rajbir Singh says. “Earlier out of 100 paisa, only 15 paisa used to reach the poor, now every paisa does,” he adds, explaining his reason for voting for Modi. He received the second installment of Rs 2,000 from the PM Kisan Nidhi scheme a couple of days back.
‘The vote is for Modi, not for Hema’, one hears this done-to-death cliche repeatedly in Chhata too.
Hema Malini Not The Ideal Candidate But Not A Dud Either
Though one can accuse Hema Malini of not being a grassroots politician or not being accessible, she is right when she says that she has done a lot of work.
In Paigaon, one of the biggest Jat villages in Chhata constituency, a 78-year-old Khadak Singh tells Swarajya that there used to be big potholes on all roads connecting the village to neighbouring areas. “No one even wanted to bring marriage proposals for our children. That’s how bad these roads were. Hema got them all rebuilt. Since Yogi came to power, we are getting 24-hour power supply, something that seemed impossible,” he says.
Mahendra Rawat, another elder in his 70s, tells me that even the narrow roads to farms have been laid with bricks. “Phele kache the, Hema ne kharanje wale road banwa diye. (Before the roads were un-tarred, Hema got all tarred roads made.) What even big leaders couldn’t do for us, Hema got it done,” he says. Both list out the problems they are facing hoping we can do something about it: stray cattle, not getting old-age pension thanks to corrupt local officials, etc.
Inside the village, we meet Rajendra Rawat and Rohtas Rawat with their families. “The potholes on our roads were this big,” Rajendra extends his full hand to show the size of the potholes. “We have seen development under Modi and Yogi. People are happy with them. Why would anyone want to go back to old days?,” asks Rohtas Rawat.
On asking about their reasons for moving away from the RLD, Rajendra says that it’s been reduced to a district-level party now while BJP is a national party. “What’s the use of voting for RLD?,” he asks. “Here, we vote for those who work for us, unlike Jats in Baghpat,” Shri Chand Rawat says.
“We were also with Jayant Chaudhary but moved away in 2014. He fought Lok Sabha election in 2009. We voted for him. Then he left the seat to contest from Mant in 2012 assembly election. He came again in 2014 to contest again as an MP. The situation of roads here went from bad to worse. He didn’t care and then he had the audacity to organise a padyatra three months before the election. It pissed people off,” elders Khadak Singh and Mahendra Rawat who we had met earlier explained their reasons for revulsion towards voting for RLD.
At another baithak, Bachu Singh tells us that they showered a lot of affection on Jayant when he contested from here for the first time in 2009 but he couldn’t get anything done. “Earlier the villagers used to get 4-5 hours of power supply and now we get it 24x7. Roads have been built, water supply to farms is excellent. It doesn’t matter whether Hema comes here or not as long as she solves our problems,” he says as three others sitting with him nod in agreement.
Just a few kilometres from Paigaon is Bishambhara village where Thakurs and Muslims live. We met a group of six people. Barring one, all said they were with the BJP. “This good road that you took to come to this village was in shambles for the past twenty years. It got built after Yogi came to power. The journey from here to Kosi Kalan was more than a hour long. Now, you can reach there in 10 minutes,” says Thakur Shyam Singh. “Modi took revenge for soldiers’ death. Farmers here got compensation for damaged crops last year. The amount per acre was more than what we used to earlier get in total,” Kamal Singh, a farmer tells me.
Jaipal Singh is however voting for RLD, “…because of biradri (community)“, as the mahagathbandhan’s candidate is a Thakur. Others try to reason with him but to no avail.
In Phalain village too, which is 7 km from Bishambhara, people can’t thank the government enough for improvement in bijli, paani and sadak. “If roads in Chhata and up to Haryana border are in good condition, then it’s because of Hema. Whatever money she got, she utilised it all for development works in the area. Unko paisi ki kya kami hai? (Does she personally lack money?) She doesn’t need it for herself,” Santosh Tanwar told Swarajya. He had voted for RLD in 2014, unaffected by the Modi wave. What the wave couldn’t do then, BJP’s governance has done now. He will be pressing the lotus symbol come 18 April.
Santhosh assures us that out of 4500 votes from his village, over 3,000 will go to Hema Malini. His three friends, two Jats and a Nai Thakur, sitting with him on a wooden cot, second him. “Security situation is also much better. Though this area is generally more peaceful, there was a one-month long curfew during Akhilesh’s time in Kosi Kalan. Now, the maahol (situation) is much more peaceful,” Girivar Chahar tells me.
“Ninety per cent of the Brahmins are with the BJP. Even many Jatavs are leaning towards the party as they have got cylinder, awas (house),” Madhav Pandit says. In this Jat village too, there are hardly any takers for RLD’s candidate. “If Lok Dal was not part of Mahagathbandhan, we could’ve still thought about voting for it, but not now,” says Son Lal. Sanjay Kumar, a barber, is all praise for Hema. “Hema ki he meharbaani hai jo itne kaam hue hain. (It is by Hema’s benevolence that so much work has been done.) Who else has got all of this done?”
Govardhan Assembly Constituency
Not everyone is happy with Hema Malini though. Residents in Radhakund (Govardhan assembly constituency) wish the party had given the ticket to a better candidate. “You needed to give just one call to Kunwar saheb (Kunwar Narendra Singh) and he would come rushing here. Hema comes only to ask for votes,” says Hira Das, sitting with his neighbours at a pan shop.
As one of them talks of nationalism, Upendra Mishra tells me, “I understand that the country’s future is important but first we have to look after our own home, then village, then district, then state and then nation.” The residents aren’t happy that the government has barred vehicles from coming into the parikrama area and outsiders have to park outside the town. “We wish Modi comes back to power but here we need a local, grassroots leader in Mathura,” Mishra reasons.
In the Govardhan assembly constituency, the Jat villages voted overwhelmingly for the RLD in 2014. This time their vote is split as many have decided to go with the BJP because of good governance. Another factor is the candidate fielded by it. RLD has given the ticket to a Thakur. Last time, Jayant Choudhhary himself contested from here. Now, he has shifted to the family seat of Baghpat. This is a good enough reason for many Jats in the region to move away from RLD as they aren’t much of party-loyalists anyway.
Hari Om Singh, a resident of Sonkh town, tells Swarajya that many of his family members voted for Jayant Chaudhary in 2014 but not anymore. “What has Ajit Singh done for us? Jayant ran away from Mathura. These people only look after their own interest.”
Charan Singh, a farmer who owns 7 bighas, voted for Lok Dal in 2014. This time, he is leaning towards the BJP. Modi ne vikas kiya hai (Modi has done development) is his reason. “Thakurs never voted for Chaudhary Sahb’s family. That’s why Gayatri Devi (wife of Chaudhary Charan Singh) lost the election from here in 1984, daughter Gyanvati Singh lost in 2004 and Jayant in 2014. He won in 2009 only because RLD had allied with the BJP then,” Singh informs.
In Bachgaon village, which went with RLD in 2014, Jats are split in half. At the Panchayat Bhavan, Lachman Kuntal says he is leaning towards RLD again though he hasn’t made a final decision yet. One youth in his family, Rohit Kuntal, says he will be voting for the BJP as will his friends.
Manvendra and Siyaram, who we meet at a small shop in the village, are still firmly with RLD because it’s a Jat party. The shopkeeper, Bhojraj Kuntal, is however, supporting BJP. “All countries are giving their highest honours to Modi. Country’s standing in the world has greatly improved,” he reasons.
Four people resting in the afternoon at their home tell me that neither Hema nor Karinda Singh (local MLA) came to visit them after winning. They are RLD loyalists. At another baithak, Omprakash Kuntal and Rishipal Kuntal, who voted for RLD last time but have switched to BJP now, explain their rationale: “BJP doesn’t do pakshapaat ki rajneeti (politics of discrimination) in welfare delivery. Other governments focus on targeting their own vote banks,” they say.
Just outside the village, we meet Kalicharan Kuntal who is extremely happy with the BJP government. “I have got Rs 1 lakh farm loan waived and have received two installments from the PM Kisan Nidhi scheme. Why would one vote for the RLD? It can’t do anything with a couple of MPs.”
Thakurs Divided but Majority of them Still with the BJP
Thakur-dominated Ranwari village near Chhata town voted en masse for the BJP in 2014. This time their vote is divided.
Tikam Singh, traditionally a BJP supporter, says that he wants Modi to become PM again but the MP should be Kunwar Narendra Singh. Ravi, a youth in the family, also supports this view. “BJP has fielded the wrong candidate. She doesn’t come to the area even when people invite her for any community functions,” he complains.
Debi Singh differs. “Even if Kunwar Narendra wins, what will he be able to do with one seat? If we have to save the nation, Modi must win again. Due to caste, some elders may vote for Kunwar Sahb but youth in 18-35 age group and educated people will still vote for Modi.”
A group of five elders is sitting outside a house. Four are supporting Modi, one is with RLD because of biradri (community). “Though some in our village are leaning towards RLD due to the candidate being a Thakur, their number is not much. Modi has done good work. So, our vote is for him and not Hema,” Suresh Chand tells us.
Advocate Ajay Singh who is with RLD this time gives his reason for shifting his loyalty from the BJP. “We have been trying to restart the sugar mill in our area which was closed down 15 years ago but our repeated requests have fallen on deaf ears,” he says adding that development work also didn’t take place as expected.
Balram Singh, a youth, informed us that out of 39 villages of Jadon Thakurs, RLD has been able to make inroads cutting BJP’s base. He also said that Kunwar Saheb’s people are telling villagers that "agar Kunwar saheb ko vote doge to bhi aapka vote BJP ko he milega,” hinting that Narendra Singh may join BJP after winning.
Radhe Shyam, another villager said that the “sabse bada vikas ka kaam Modi ne kiya hai wo hai (the biggest development Modi has done is) giving free hand to armed forces to take action against terrorists and Pakistan”. His three friends sitting with him repeat the cliche of “vote is for Modi and not Hema” as they describe how she doesn’t step out of her car even during campaign because “gaon walo se badboo aati hai unhe (She gets a bad smell from the villagers)” - a refrain one hears often from the villagers.
In Kamai village, near the farms, we talk to a villager who said the same thing. “You can’t get close to her. Can’t garland her. She doesn’t like any of this. Badboo aati hai unko aam logo se (She gets a bad smell from common people). Narendra is our own. If he becomes an MP, at least we can sit together with him on the same cot.” He then goes on to narrate how one local leader who was sitting in Hema’s car farted and she asked him to get out of the car. Two of his friends who are with him burst into laughter on hearing this amusing tale, which, in all likelihood, seems concocted. This villager also boasts that out of 3,000 votes in this Thakur village, 2700 will go to the RLD.
Inside the village, however, we find that most are supporting the BJP.
Gopal Thakur, a farmer who owns four bighas, is happy with the government. He praises the work done by the administration in paving the kacha (un-tarred) roads. Padam Singh says some villagers may be behind Narendra Singh because of biradri but “what will biradri achieve? His own brother is campaigning against him and for Hema.”
Laxmi Narayan, a farmer who owns three acres is all praise for Modi as he has received two PM Kisan Nidhi scheme installments of Rs 2,000 each. “No prime minister has done the kind of work Modi has done. He has put an end to high-level corruption and has given full freedom to Armed Forces, even allowing them to buy weapons of their choice,” he says. “We don’t care for the candidate. We will vote for Modi, no matter whoever he fields.”
Sherpal, an elder informs me that this time the contest isn’t one-sided as far as his village is concerned. “I am not for biradri but for truth. Modi has given more than anyone did in last 60 years,” he says. His friend Bharati Singh, agrees, listing various improvements in their lives. “We didn’t used to get power in the village now it’s available for more than 18 hours a day. We used to get water supply for irrigation for one week in a month, now we get it 24x7. Mosquitoes would earlier bite our cattle but due to the fans, even they are now living peacefully,” he tells us.
Radheshyaam, an elder, says that he would prefer Kunwar Saheb as his MP and Modi as PM because Hema doesn’t understand the problems of the common man. But despite that, he will vote for Modi because “zila nahi bachana, desh bachana hai. (We don’t have to save our Zilla, we need to save our country.)”
From Chhata to Barsana, there are many villages of Jadon Thakurs. Since Narendra Singh is himself a Jadon Thakur, he has more traction here. But this support diminishes as one moves from Chhata to Mathura Road where the other Thakurs live.
Chaumuhan is a large Nagar Panchayat that falls on the Mathura highway. It is largely populated by Thakurs. At Maharana Pratap Chowk, preparations are on in full swing as the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, is scheduled to visit and address a rally here. The rally is to convince those in the community who are thinking of voting for Narendra Singh.
At the Chowk, we meet two youngsters at a shop, both Sisodiyas and Modi fans because of “nationalism, Uri, and Balakot airstrike.” Their older friend, Ravinder Singh, who voted for Samajwadi Party “due to personal reasons” doesn’t agree and says he will vote for RLD.
As we move inside the town, this split is visible everywhere. Sodan Singh and Ramhet agree that Modi has done good work but they want Kunwar Saheb as their representative because he is accessible while Hema is not. “Even those who are voting for RLD don’t have any problem with Modi.” they tell me.
One sees the same divide in Akbarpur village. Jaswant Singh Panwar who runs Pradhan Tent House, tells me that Thakurs are divided this time. He is voting for RLD because of caste but also informs that his son will be voting for the BJP only. “Out of 65 votes in the whole family, I think barely 10 are with RLD,” he laments as he is not able to convince them.
Laxmi Narayan Singh, Panwar’s friend, received Rs 18,000 as compensation for his damaged crops. His farm loan, worth Rs 49,000, was waived off and he has got two installments from the PM Kisan Nidhi scheme. He is happy and will be voting for the BJP.
From visits to Govardhan and Chhata assembly constituencies in Mathura, one observes a similar trend. Jats are not enthusiastic for RLD this time as a family member of Charan Singh’s family is not contesting. On the other hand, some Thakurs who voted for the BJP last time are going with RLD.
While projecting a Thakur candidate from Mathura, RLD probably thought that with over 3 lakh Jats and 2.5 lakh Thakurs, along with substantial minority votes, the party would be able to put up a close fight against the BJP. However, the chemistry on the ground is not following the arithmetic calculations of the backroom.
Hema Malini is all set to win this seat a second time, riding again on the popularity and good governance of PM Modi.
This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.
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