The fare was not elaborate but the symbolism was hard to miss — the party is reaching out to caste groups not counted among its core supporters ahead of the crucial 2017 election.
The choice of place too said a lot. Jogiyapur is a Bind-dominated village in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi. Binds are an extremely backward class, demanding quota benefits like those extended to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
The food was cooked in the house of Girija Prasad Bind, and the BJP chief shared the meal with 11 others, including his host, in the verandah.
“The food is delicious,” Shah said of the meal that included stuffed bitter gourd, gourd kofta, dal, rice and chapati.
The BJP chief was showered with petals and women offered aarti when he reached Jogiyapur in the morning. Many villagers dancing to drumbeats as folk singers belted out songs about the welfare schemes launched by the Modi government.
He was offered jiggery and water, which he readily accepted. Onion pakoras came next. After the meal, the BJP chief Shah met the women of the house — Kiran Devi, Reeta Devi and Manorama — and thanked them for the food.
Kiran, who led the cooking team, was delighted. “I met such a big leader for the first time,” she said.
The sentiment was echoed by Girija Prasad. “I’m happy that such a big leader visited my house. Never before has any senior political leader visited this village,” he said.
Jogiyapur has a population of around 1,200, with Binds in the majority. There are around 100 Dalits in the village that also has a considerable Yadav population and a few Brahmin and other backward class families.
Only three families have toilets in the village that has a mud track for a road and lacks a drainage system – a fertile ground for the BJP to sell its sabka saath, sabka vikas vision.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, was one of the biggest contributors to the BJP’s sweep in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But, the party is a marginal player in the state politics dominated by regional outfits like the ruling Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said Shah’s lunch stopover was planned keeping the 2017 elections in mind. His party did not indulge in politics of caste and would reach out to people only on the basis of their work, he said.
Shah refused to speak to the media, saying he would do so in Allahabad, where he was to address a farmer rally later in the day.