VARANASI: The first sight that greets you when you enter Narendra Modi’s fiefdom is half of Rahul Gandhi. The ruins of a tattered poster near Chaubepur sum up the contest here. The alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress is under seige from the indomitable Modi juggernaut. And the Congress, piggybacking on the Akhilesh Yadav vote machine, is but a political tourist.
Like Deepa Dasmunsi, former Congress MP from West Bengal who has landed at the nondescript party office on Englishiya lane.
She is here to woo the 20,000 Bengalis, including 5,000 widows from the state who have taken refuge by the ghats, waiting for moksha in the salvation ghetto like they have done for centuries. There are around two lakh Bengalis in Varanasi—but a declining population. The area, part of the Varanasi North constituency, was Bengal Central once when Cooch Behar royals founded great palaces. Its lanes are narrower than the minds of clerics and the crumbling buildings have an air of genteel decay.
Deepa has seemingly sensed it. In her elegant tussar silk sari, she is accompanied by a gaggle of local party leaders who are struggling for survival like their community. In a small room tended by a reluctant ceiling fan, she confabulates with them. She has two meetings in the evening. But she doesn’t want to miss the aarti which is the ancient defining ritual of Kashi.
What goes unsaid is that most of the Bengalis in Varanasi had fled East Pakistan after the violent Partition riots. They have no love for the Congress, being traditional Jan Sangh, and later, BJP voters.
The only hiccup was seven-time MLA, the 77-year-old Shyamdev Roy Chaudhari who has been denied a ticket. But Amit Shah’s realpolitik has mollified him; the veteran has been promised an MLC seat, or so the grapevine says.
The grapevine also says two outlying constituencies—Rohaniya where the Apna Dal is contesting and Sevapuri—may not look kindly on the lotus. The prime minister will strike tent in Varanasi on 4th and 5th to dominate the slog overs. The feeling is it will swing the doubting Thomases in the BJP’s favour.
On the same days, Akhilesh and his partner will also descend on Modi’s city, taking out a 11-km roadshow. For both, it’s prayer time. Politicians speak of a silent Modi wave in the UP hinterland where the PM’s cult status has grown post the note ban. Winning Uttar Pradesh is more important for Akhilesh. Rahul can go back to the pleasant climes of Lutyens’ Delhi, where he is busy writing the obituary of the Congress. But if Akhilesh loses Lucknow, all is lost. And uncle Shivpal will have his dish cold with relish.
It’s the Congress party’s last big election. Its dreams are in tatters like its leader’s posters. For Varanasi is where dreams go to die.