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Indian election rallies draw huge crowds, fiery speeches and a lot of
promises to deliver a better future, but the star of the show is often
the helicopter in which the key speaker arrives. At a rally in the
small town of Nuh, 78 kilometres (49 miles) south of New Delhi, several
thousand low-caste Dalits, Muslims and the rural poor had been sitting
on the ground for at least four hours, waiting in the baking heat.
When Mayawati Kumari, the “queen of the SC/STs”, finally came into
land, they rushed to stand up and forced their way past security guards
to watch her helicopter descend from the sky.
As it settled
noisily on the flat, bare plain, its rotor blades blew clouds of gritty
dust into the excited crowds and the canvas sun awnings flapped wildly
in the breeze.
Mayawati, like all of India’s prominent
politicians, is on a hectic schedule, flying around the country from
one rally to another, ahead of voting that starts on April 16.
the party leaders go, the format is much the same: a patch of open
ground, a makeshift stage, sun shelter to protect the spectators — and
hours and hours of music, speeches and chanting to build up the
At Nuh, a poor farming area in the state of Haryana,
the crowd had gathered since early morning, clogging the approaching
roads with rickshaws, buses and carts decorated in the blue flags of
Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Men in simple white clothes
filled much of the audience, while women in colourful saris cared for
children in a reserved section off to one side.
“I am here to see
Mayawati,” said Sona, a 40-year-old SC woman. “I have seen her on
television and she has promised that the lower castes will get more
benefits and job opportunities.”
Poor women in particular look to
Mayawati, who has risen to be chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state
after being born into a Dalit, or “untouchable”, sub-caste of
leatherworkers in 1956.
“She is like us and understands our
problems. She knows how it is to be poor and we hope she will help us,”
said Somvati, an elderly female ragpicker suffering from cataracts.
spectators said transport to the rally was free and that they were
there only out of curiosity and the chance of a day away from home,
while others seemed certain that Mayawati could improve their lives.
are not paid to be here or given any free food,” said Mosim Khan, 19, a
truck driver from India’s large and often poor Muslim minority.
will vote for the elephant (the BSP symbol), because Mayawati will
bring us clean water, and sort out the railway line,” he said.
the waiting stretched into the heat of the day, local politicians gave
lengthy warm-up performances attacking the incumbent Congress coalition
and vowing that Mayawati would soon be prime minister.
played on the loudspeaker sang “my queen, my sister, she is my life,
she is my pride,” and officials led chants of “she is new, she is
determined, she is Mayawati”.
Eventually she appeared on stage
and delivered a 25-minute stump speech outlining her achievements as a
chief minister and promising change for India’s downtrodden masses.
rhetoric drew only an occasional splatter of applause, and soon the
crowds were chatting among themselves despite party activists who tried
to spark up further signs of enthusiasm.
After finishing her text, she left the stage quickly and returned to the helicopter.
audience leapt back to life, pushing and shoving to get a good
viewing position. The rotor blades revved into action and the queen of
SC/ST was borne up and away, out of the heat and the dust, and off to
her next engagement.