Squawking crows, crowing roosters and roosting doves take turns in that order to tease Friday dawn out of a hazy horizon over Surendranagar.
Despite having stayed up until 1 in the morning I am surprisingly eager to be lured out of my bed by these morning avian greeters. A faint smell of cow dung permeates the air. That seems like the default smell of the region. Right underneath that there is the smell of slight roasting emanating from apparently ceaseless cooking fires.
I am not sure if there is any point to this unnecessarily picturesque opening to my Part III in my continuing chronicles about childhood friend and a particularly driven politician Himanshu Vyas. I am back in Surendranagar in the heart of Gujarat for a couple of days to see for myself where Himanshu is headed in his political quest.
One immediate realization is that he now knows even more people by their real names (His aide Bharatbhai helpfully tells me he knows about 5,000) than what he did when I last came here. It is amazing how he was able to rattle off the names of each of his constituents who dropped by at his residence all of last afternoon and evening. These constituents show up with a remarkable mixture of the urgency of a people genuinely convinced that there is no tomorrow and the worries of lifelong suppliants who think there is no end to their woes. Himanshu tackles the challenges with the effusiveness of a veteran chef sampling the dishes of aspiring ones.
Another realization is that people in India always seem to be on their mobile phones, either talking or checking SMS’s or looking for numbers or simply staring at the screens in the off chance that someone might call. It is as if they want to see the call materialize on the screen before it prompts a ringtone. In the case of Himanshu, his aides and his constituents the purpose of their being on the mobiles sounds assertively political. They are always connecting political loose ends.
One is also struck by the sheer diversity of political tightrope walking Himanshu has to do to ensure that all the disparate and often conflicting sociocultural groups within his constituency unite in their support of him in the very likely event of his nomination by the Congress Party. Quite astutely, Himanshu does not make any of his backroom meetings sound like he is already campaigning because he cannot since he has not been named yet. At a late night meeting his chief host tells a bunch of young men eager to throw their lot behind Himanshu, “Even if he is not nominated we want to make him win.”
There are always undercurrents of dissent and disagreement because the constituents are sizing up their own narrow gains should they choose to support Himanshu. The more some of them talk about doing things in the larger interests of the community in general, the narrower they are actually getting in their unspoken minds about their own little group’s gains. Himanshu is well aware of the chasm between what is being articulated and what is being hidden. But I suppose that is the thrill of brass knuckled politics where satin gloves do not come off that easily.
At the late night meeting last night, Himanshu’s host decides to impromptu enumerate the amount of work he has done in the last five years—getting street lights, fixing roads, securing permission to build schools and generally focusing on issues that have a direct bearing on daily life.
Amid all the frenzy there is Babu the serving staff relentlessly supplying cups of tea and water and plates of snacks. During the more than ten hours that I watched events unfold not once did Babu seem perturbed. By my count he would have ferried a couple of hundreds cups of tea, as many plates of snacks and many more glasses of water. As we returned at 12.45 a.m. Babu was at hand bringing the last round of water, still smiling as if he had just begun his job.
I intend to write some more posts about the experience if only to underscore how visceral, hands-on and demanding the life of an Indian politician can get. Of course, one can always argue that no one forces the tribe to get into it. That’s a fair point but someone has to do it. In this case it is Himanshu Vyas who, like Babu, does it every time as if he has just begun his job.