VARANASI: In the winding lanes and bylanes along the banks of the serene Ganga, in the welter of the mundane, the spiritual and the fun — broken by the poignant scenes of life by the eternal pyres at Manikarnika and Dashashwamedh Ghats — Kashi is ever alive. Come poll season and people of all backgrounds forget their life stations and sit around at dusk against the silhouetted banks, and on boats, animatedly debating what May 23 would entail.
The festival of democracy is all the more special here for having India’s Prime Minister as a candidate in the ring. Kashi, constituency number 77 of Uttar Pradesh, had elected Narendra Modi in 2014 and is now set for a redux in 2019.
Modi had secured 5.81 lakh votes the last time, defeating Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, by 3.7 lakh votes.
If Modi’s show of strength through a mega 6-km roadshow here on April 25, a day before filing his nomination, was any indication, the result seems to be a foregone conclusion. Yet, the BJP is not complacent.
Though the Opposition has been accused of giving a walkover to the PM in Varanasi, the party is leaving no stone unturned to ensure his victory with a possibly bigger margin this time. While the PM spearheaded his party’s poll campaign across the country, his lieutenant and party chief Amit Shah monitored Modi’s campaign up to booth level.
On the contrary, the Opposition has failed to put up a respectable fight. After intense speculations over Priyanka Gandhi Vadra taking on Modi, the Congress, in an anti-climax to a potential battle of nerves, re-nominated Ajay Rai, who had lost in 2009 and 2014. The SP-BSP-RLD gathbandhan’s search for a candidate against Modi also ended with a greenhorn Shalini Yadav — a Congress mayoral candidate who had lost to the BJP in 2017.
The BJP is riding high not only on development plank but also ‘nationalism’, even as unemployment, demonetisation, Ganga cleaning and Varanasi’s development falling way below expectations are part of the counter narrative.
Modi supporters have a long list of projects worth thousands of crore of rupees which they claim has been implemented in the last five years. The young voters take pride in the way the PM has taken on Pakistan and China in war over terror. “He has put the country on a pedestal at international level. Who else has done it so emphatically in the recent past?” asks Shivankar, 25, who assists his father in his grocery shop.
Amid the overwhelming support, there are voices of dissent as well. “Will Modi be able to do the ‘achman’ (tasting) with Ganga water, which he claims is cleaner now?” says Nipun, an MBA student, referring to the pollution of the river.
At Pappu’s Adi, a nearby tea stall that has earned legendary status, the question pops up: “What’s the trend?” and it triggers a flurry of arguments. But there is consensus on one point: “There is no challenge to Modi, at least in Varanasi.”
“Last time, he was an outsider. Now, he is as much a Banarasi as any son of this soil. And don’t forget the fact that the city has the privilege to elect the PM. Even as an MP, his contribution is unmatched,” says Prof K K Mishra of political science department of BHU.
Prof V N Mishra of IIT-BHU, who is also the mahant of Sankat Mochan Temple Trust ,counters: “Banarasis are in pain. What kind of development model is this? They want to turn it into a Gurgaon.”
Plenty of other dissenting voices emanate from Madanpura area with a concentration of weavers. Be it the big power loom owners, or small weavers and handloom workers, each has a grievance. “Weavers have got nothing in the past five years. There is no use of facilitation centre for us. Four or five visits to the centre for a deal virtually consume whatever margins we get. So, we are back to the services of middlemen,” says Parvez. His neighbour Moin says a power subsidy scheme started for weavers during Akhilesh Yadav’s regime has been withdrawn.