VARANASI: It’s 1 in the night at the Dashwashamedh Ghat – one of the eighty-odd ghats dotting river Ganga – in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi, a few hours before the ancient city voted in the last phase of ongoing Lok Sabha elections.
While dozens of devotees, including a clutch of kids and youngsters from Barabanki district under the picture-postcard umbrellas on the ghat, before taking the early morning dip in the sacred river, back in the parts of the old city, its normal nightlife at tea, paan and fruit shake shops.
At Bhelupur in the Varanasi Cant assembly segment, two Yadavs indulge in a heated war of words over the electoral outcome and what PM has done for his constituency. While 35-year-old Samajwadi Party (SP) supporter Rajesh Yadav agrees that PM could be the actual winner from the seat again, but by a lesser margin than 2014, 50-year-old BJP supporter Ram Kumar Yadav, cycles past his much younger caste-man saying PM will win by a bigger margin than 2014 due to the positive change ushered by him in the oldest living city.
But while minority community dominated Gauriganj resident Ram Kumar Yadav fails to detail about all positives ushered in the city by it’s MP, the SP supporter younger Yadav claims that the GST of Modi regime has actually hit his Banarasi saree business adversely. “Two years back, I gave job to eight people on my two shops in Kunjgali, but the number of employees now has declined to just four,” says Rajesh putting a bet on the Mahagathbandhan candidate and ex-Congress worker Shalini Yadav to be the main challenger to Modi.
Around three km away, the generations-old Kuber Paan shop is abuzz with political activity at 2 am, with Banarasis from various age groups debating on who will actually fight out the polls against Modi in Varanasi on Sunday. While pressure cooker business owner Shadab Ali and Banarasi saree businessman Sabir Ansari claim it will be Congress candidate (ex-BJP man) Ajay Rai, who will actually be the main challenger to the PM seeking re-election from Varanasi, BHU student Nilesh Verma and 16-year-old Class XI student Aman Jha say it will be Mahagathbandhan’s Shalini Yadav, who came second as Congress candidate in the mayoral polls.
However, not amused by the discussion between the two groups, the second generation of paan shop owner siblings (who are night duty) say no one can even challenge the PM from Banaras.
Just a few kilometers away at the Maidagin-Town Hall, crossing the oven is still hot enough where around 20-30 customers, including some people from adjoining Ghazipur district returning home after cremation of a close relative at Manikarnika Ghat debate the tough battle in which Modi’s close associate and union minister Manoj Sinha is engaged in Ghazipur LS seat.
Suddenly, 55-year-old Pradeep Mehrotra, a manager in a local fan manufacturing company arrives at the shop orders for a crispy toast and chai, adding smilingly to the hot political conversation ahead of the battle of votes. “Who says PM hasn’t done anything for his constituency, uninterrupted 24 hours electricity, good roads, well lit-up clean city, comparatively cleaner Ganga ghats, a dream highway connecting the city with the Airport and a Cancer Hospital near BHU, he has ushered all, but still I would vote Congress due to affiliations to the party since decades,” says Mehrotra.
Smiling at Mehrotra is 30-year-old is two decades younger Amit Khanna, who says “it’s time to vote for the Mahagathbandhan candidate, as she is in the fight against Modi and will help my relatives take revenge for the demolition of hundreds of houses near Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanwapi complex, for the ambitious Ganga-Kashi Vishwanath corridor complex.”
Two friends working at the tea shop, Amit Patel and Ankur Jaiswal, both die-hard Modi supporters ask Khanna and others to leave the shop and debate at home who will be Modi’s main challenger in Varanasi on Sunday. “Jeetihan ta Modiyeji, bas baat hau margin ka, baaki asli ladai ta doo aur teen number ka baa (Its Modi who will be the winner again and its only how big the margin of his triumph will be. The real contest is for the second slot),” say the two friends running the tea shop and in agreement with them is young Gokul Jha, a research scholar from Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth University.
Its already 3 am, when the devotees sleeping at Ganga Ghats are about to wake up for the early morning dip in the sacred river, but around 5 km away at Lanka outside BHU Gate is a group young boys and girls (possibly BHU students) who are relishing mango shake and fast food delights without any concern for the poll battle a few hours later.
The owner of the shop Ramesh Gupta, however, asks them to slowly leave the shop after making payments, as he along with family has to vote in the morning. And ask Gupta, whom would he be voting for and the quick reply is “ohi ke jekar lahar hau” (its for the candidate, who still has the wave in his favour).
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the then BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi had defeated AAP chief and present Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal by over 3.71 lakh votes, while Congress candidate Ajay Rai had finished a distant third for the second time in a row with 75,000-plus votes.