LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh -- As a popular saying in Lucknow goes, Mayawati built the massive Ramabai Ambedkar grounds and only Mayawati can fill it up.
That did hold true but only until today, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally drew a sea of supporters as far as the eyes could see. Some among those attending the rally could be seen perched on the boundary wall of the grounds which can accommodate at least five lakh people.
At noontime, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that the turnout at the event had broken the record of Mayawati's rallies. That was a good two hours before Modi was scheduled to speak and every plane that passed over the Ramabai Ambedkar grounds drew chants of "Modi Modi" from the crowds.
BJP workers talked about how "perfect" the weather was and congratulated themselves on organising the "biggest" rally that Lucknow had ever seen.
Speaking to HuffPost India, Chandra Mohan, U.P. spokesperson for the BJP, predicted that the size of the crowd would double to 10 lakh by the time the prime minister arrives.
"Mayawati has said that no one else can bring five to seven lakh people," Mohan said. "That has been met. And there are still loads of people outside. Trains are late, people are stuck in traffic."
"Only Modi can break Modi's record. The wave is about to turn into a tsunami," he added.
But there was a catch. The vast majority of the crowd comprised the BJP's own booth committee workers and longtime supporters. The BJP has 140,000 booth committees in Uttar Pradesh, with at least 10 to 15 people for each booth.
Over the past month, the BJP had undertaken a massive exercise to ensure that each booth committee sent at least 10 workers to the rally, party sources told HuffPost India. That translates to 14 lakh workers attending the rally.
Out of the six people that HuffPost India interviewed at the rally, four said that they were booth workers, while the other two said that they were long-time supporters of the BJP who worked for the party in their respective villages.
Tens of thousands of people had traveled for up to 12 to 14 hours to reach Lucknow by Monday morning to hear Modi speak in his first political rally of the year in poll-bound U.P.
Speaking about the currency demonetisation, Sanoj Sharma, a BJP supporter and farmer from Kannauj, admitted that the hinterland had witnessed much hardship and suffering. However, he did not blame Modi. "Modi is not the fault," he reasoned. "It is the Modi government. Modi had a sound idea but it was the Centre that could not execute it properly."
On Saturday, BJP leaders had gathered at the Ramabai Ambedkar Rally ground for a havan ceremony ahead of the prime minister's speech. Brajesh Pathak, a prominent Brahmin face of the Bahujan Samaj Party, who joined the BJP in August, said that Modi and Mayawati's rallies differed in one big way.
"The crowds in Modi's rallies cut across caste lines," he pointed out.
Also on HuffPost India.