For BJP, road to Delhi is from Varanasi this time

Many Varanasi residents are now pinning all their faith on Modi, hoping his victory would catapult the city to the national map.

trithesh

Trithesh Nandan | March 19, 2014


Modi supporters in Lucknow
Photo: Trithesh Nandan

Varanasi is not an easy place to negotiate. As the city straddles the spiritual high and governance deficit, its potholed streets and traffic woes are what will greet you; and the dust on your face is what will hit you – all this amid chants of shlokas and sound of bells.

For an outsider, it gets a little suffocating – at times difficult to breathe – but that is not a deterrent in the run-up to the general elections as people troop in droves. All so suddenly, Varanasi is the place to be in – for political activists, journalists and enthusiasts alike – since the BJP announced that its PM candidate, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, would contest from there. And the decibel – and excitement – level got a touch shriller after Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal said he is likely to fight from there.

Before BJP made Modi’s candidature public, the present MP from the seat, party veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, put up a spirited show to ensure he retains candidature. As locals put it, there was virtually a tug-of-war between Joshi supporters and the Modi camp. “Even rickshaw pullers have been influencing their customers in favour of Modi,” said Alok Kumar Rai, professor of business management at the city’s renowned Benares Hindu University (BHU).

Varanasi hasn’t seen such drama in recent years – the last ‘tall’ leader to represent Varanasi was Kamalapati Tripathi of the Congress, a former chief minister of the undivided Uttar Pradesh, subsequently a union minister in the Indira Gandhi government and the Varanasi MP in 1980.

Many Varanasi residents are thus now pinning all their faith on Modi, hoping his victory would catapult the city to the national map.

Having won only 10 out of 80 seats in a state that used to be its stronghold not very long ago, the BJP, too, is pinning a lot of hope on Modi’s Varanasi fight. To misquote former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for BJP the road to Delhi goes through Varanasi (it was Lucknow, Vajpayee’s constituency, in the BJP stalwart’s case) In the saffron party’s calculations, Modi contesting from Varanasi opens up a distinct possibility of having a sway over the Purvanchali voters – in eastern UP and adjoining parts of Bihar.

“We feel his (Modi’s) election from Varanasi would change the city’s fortunes,” as Rai put it.

In his massive rally in Varanasi last December, Modi had offer a glimpse of hope to a city battling infrastructure woes, speaking at length about development and finding the lost glory of the famed Banarasi sarees. Modi has his own supporters in Varanasi and adjoining areas. A large number of people there work in Surat and other cities of Gujarat, and they are the unofficial ambassadors of Gujarat’s ‘prosperity’ and Modi’s message of hope and change.

But with Kejriwal set to take him on in the holy city, the path may not be that smooth. "I was reading in some newspapers that it will be a symbolic fight (in Varanasi) and it is Modi who will win…. I want to tell him (Modi) that I am going (to Varanasi) not only to fight but I am going to defeat him," Kejriwal said recently in Delhi.

Kejriwal’s Twitter army was quick to fire with gusto: “Revolution in Varanasi: har har Arvind, ghar ghar Arvind”, countering the Modi brigade’s chants of “har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi”. Meanwhile, local strongman and Quami Ekta Dal leader Mukhtar Ansari’s decision to contest from the seat has added to the complexity. In 2009, Ansari had given a very tough fight to Murli Manohar Joshi.

Long ago, people of Rae Bareli and Amethi – constituencies of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, respectively, and considered pocket boroughs of the Gandhi family – saw hope in their MPs for development of their regions. Both still come in the category of backward districts. Many residents of Varanasi have pinned similar hope on Modi this time around. The electoral game can only get more exciting from now till the finish.

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