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Badla, mandir & Swachh Bharat — tracking VK Singh’s final vote pitch in Ghaziabad

ThePrint followed BJP's V.K. Singh, the 67-year-old retired general, on his last day of campaigning in Ghaziabad to see the action from the trenches.

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Ghaziabad: It’s Tuesday, 9 April, the final day of campaigning for the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled for the 11th. The Ramlila Maidan in Pilkhuwa, 27 kilometres from Ghaziabad, is draped in saffron, and the excitement in the air is palpable.

It’s a public meeting for the BJP’s heavyweight candidate from Ghaziabad, General (retired) Vijay Kumar Singh, the Minister of State for External Affairs in the Narendra Modi government, and former Chief of Army Staff.

Singh had won Ghaziabad by a scarcely-believable margin of 5,67,260 votes in 2014, having polled 56.5 per cent of all the votes cast.

Five years on, the number of voters in the constituency has gone up to 27 lakh from about 23 lakh in 2014. And Singh, who had been labelled an “outsider” due to his Haryana roots, is fighting the same tag all over again.

His main opponents in this election are Dolly Sharma of the Congress, an MBA with a political lineage, and the Samajwadi Party’s Suresh Bansal, a former MLA backed by the Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party.

On this final day of campaigning, ThePrint follows the 67-year-old retired general to see the action from the trenches.

The ‘chowkidar’ & the general

The crowd consists of a few hundred people in lotus caps and carrying saffron flags. Few seem to care about the heat, but even fewer seem familiar with Singh. Instead, people have turned up to show their support for Prime Minister Modi.

Mera vote toh Modiji ko jaayega (my vote will go to Modi),” says Kaalicharan, a 43-year-old auto-rickshaw owner from Ghaziabad.

Singh has seldom been seen or heard in his constituency. Even at this four-hour-long public meeting in Pilkhuwa, he speaks for less than 10 minutes, leaving it to his party colleagues to list out his achievements of the last five years

Illustration: Soham Sen/ThePrint.

Also read: Not just ‘Modi’s Army’, these are 5 other times VK Singh disowned his comments


Hunger for revenge

‘Netaji’, as Singh is called by some, is respected for his military background. As a former Indian Army chief, he’s seen as the ideal candidate to lead the BJP’s campaign against “anti-national” elements, including the Congress and other opposition parties.

This election season, the BJP has often harped on the Modi government’s muscular approach to national security. At Tuesday’s meeting, this translates to a hunger for ‘badla’ — revenge for Pulwama, revenge on Pakistan, on China, and whoever “wishes to sell the country to terrorists”.

Illustration: Soham Sen/ThePrint

For beti, behen and maa

Part of the BJP’s poll plank in Ghaziabad is its claim of a successful Swachh Bharat Mission. The installation of 8 crore toilets in rural homes across the country has upheld the dignity of “matayein” and “behenein” (mothers and sisters), says Singh.

This, coupled with the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign, has given the BJP traction among women voters. Singh is confident that the two schemes will garner at least 51 per cent of the women vote.

Illustration: Soham Sen/ThePrint

Also read: I beg to disagree: Minister V.K. Singh counters Yeddyurappa’s ‘Modi wave’ comments


Colour-correction

In its ‘sankalp patra’ or vision document for the elections, the BJP has once again promised to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya at the earliest. Predictably, Tuesday’s meeting also ends on the same note.

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in his address to the gathering, calls for a “bhagwa kranti” (saffron revolution) to ensure that the temple gets built.

Interestingly, no one is allowed to enter the meeting in black clothes — party workers stand at the entrance to ensure this. White T-shirts, as well as those bearing Modi’s face, are being sold on the side.

Illustration: Soham Sen/ThePrint

(With inputs from PTI)

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