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In Allahabad, Joshi is the family patriarch

By Nistula Hebbar in Allahabad
May 04, 2004 16:49 IST
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On Labour Day, Allahabad streets are clogged with people. Despite it being a holiday, there's a huge crowd at the Civil Lines crossing -- sales representatives holding a massive dharna.

The Samajwadi Party immediately tries to capitalise on the situation. Reoti Raman Singh, the Samajwadi candidate from the Allahabad seat, begins his speech by speaking of the toiling masses, and then warms up to his favourite topic -- the inaccessibility of the BJP candidate and Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

In an election with few issues, Joshi's brusque manner has come in for a lot of scrutiny.

The fact seems to be further reinforced by the sign outside Joshi's Elgin Road residence, which instructs visitors to "Take off your shoes before entering the premises."

Till recently, his office had a sign that read: "Please do not embarrass us by asking for favours." Even taxi drivers refuse to approach beyond 300 metres of the gate.

However, Joshi's relationship with his constituency is best understood on a boat ride on the Yamuna near the Sangam. Ram Sahay Purohit, one of the 1448 registered priests at the Triveni, never fails to refer to Joshi as "Human Resource Development Minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi."

At times, when the long prefix gets too much for him too, he shortens it to "Manav Sansadhan (Human Resources) Dr Joshi", but never "Joshi".

The almost reverential attitude finds an echo across Allahabad, where no one lets you forget that Joshi has a doctorate in Physics, that too in Hindi. His image is that of a family patriarch, someone feared and respected at the same time.

Joshi is credited with getting funds sanctioned for the new Rs 270-crore Yamuna Bridge, being built across the river.

"Just as the Allahabad Fort's foundation was laid by Emperor Ashok, and completed by Akbar, the foundation of the Yamuna Bridge was laid by Amitabh Bachchan, and will be completed by Human Resources Dr Joshi," says Purohit. An analogy, Joshi probably won't be too happy with.

However, the controversy over central government recognition for the Allahabad University could well trip up Joshi.

The SP, which opposed the Allahabad University Bill in the Rajya Sabha, says it only spoke of making the institution a university of 'national importance', and not a central university. However, the BJP says the Bill would have delivered on this promise and more.

"We were also put off by the fact that the Bill was introduced a day before the Lok Sabha was dissolved, and that too in the Rajya Sabha," says Reoti Raman Singh.

Joshi's manner of functioning has local BJP leaders worried. For them Joshi's loss from Allahabad will be a big blow for the party.

With Uttar Pradesh politics hopelessly divided on caste lines, things are evenly poised. Dalits, Kurmis and Yadav together comprise 28 per cent of the electorate in this constituency, while Brahmins account for 12 per cent.

Banias and Kayasthas, who till now have traditionally voted for the BJP, comprise another 19 per cent.

With the prime ministerial race appearing to be hotting up even inside the BJP, Dr Joshi had better remember it's the little things that matter.

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Nistula Hebbar in Allahabad