Undoubtedly our Prime Minister’s recent visit to his parliamentary constituency Varanasi —27th in the past eight years—is extremely significant and deserves in-depth analysis.
It marks the launch of the forthcoming election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, unfettered by the model code of conduct after the schedule of elections is announced. It’s reasonable to suggest that the shorter than a full-day heli-hop, whistle-stop itinerary was primarily designed to renew the personal bond with his constituents, who have been more than a little distraught with the long absence of their representative. And he hasn’t quite lived up to the epithet ‘Son of Ganga’ when his healing touch was needed most during the devastating second wave of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic.
True, the PM of the country can’t play favourites and has to devise and implement winning strategies with the national perspective uppermost in his mind but it can’t be denied that there was avoidable confusion. The gap between the last and the latest visit of Modiji is eight months and includes the period when he was busy campaigning on war footing on the electoral battleground in West Bengal. Even a brief stopover en route Kolkata would have surely placated hurt feelings and bodies badly bruised by the ravaging epidemic.
Our PM is a consummate communicator and performed brilliantly—he inaugurated a number of projects worth thousands of crores of rupees ‘gifting’ them to the residents of Varanasi making the point emphatically that he doesn’t merely promise but also matches it with performance.
He began his address to a handpicked audience with Bhojpuri sentences and made numerous references to Mahadeva, Baba Bholenath/Vishvanath and Mata Annapurna, the deities beloved of all the residents of Banaras. In the same breath, he evoked the cultural heritage of the city—music, classical and folk, vocal and instrumental—that recognises no communal or sectarian divide. He talked of silks the city has been famous for centuries and referred to the tradition of learning and scholarship. In his own inimitable style he packed a lot of punch in short inaugural speeches.
What remains to be seen is whether this will suffice to heal the hurt. Most of the time was spent at the state-of-the-art Rudraksha Convention Centre built with Japanese aid and by a Japanese company. Not a few eyebrows were raised seeking clues to the ‘atma nirbhar’ Indian component in this project. The Japanese are known for time-bound completion of development projects, joint ventures with world-class quality assurance. None can deny that this event was superbly used by Narendra Bhai to convey the message to China and other powers hostile to India that Indo-Japan ties are strongly founded on the convergence of national interests and go beyond the contours of emerging QUAD. But can the same confidence be exuded about the quality and durability of other projects inaugurated at the same time?
The photographs that have appeared in newspapers with the false ceiling in the Maternal and Child Health unit at Banaras Hindu University just days after its dedication to the people raise serious questions. Those responsible for embarrassment to the PM need to be identified and brought to book asap. One also recalls that the UP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, had toured the city, reviewed the claims of completion of various projects and himself removed some from the list. How then did this fiasco take place?
Promises and Performances apart, it’s the unalloyed Praise showered on Yogi Adityanath that left almost everyone speechless. For quite some time, rumours were rife about the ‘rift’ between the two strongmen and it was impossible not to overhear loud whispers about impending change in leadership in the state. All that ‘motivated’ reporting has now been laid to RIP. What is astounding is that the PM seems to have gotten carried away with his own flow of resonating words to certify that the UP CM’s handling of the Covid crisis was ‘unparalleled’. This sounded like rubbing salt in the not-as-yet healed wound. The plight of patients and their family members struggling to secure life-saving oxygen or a bed in the hospitals can’t be airbrushed easily. Public memory is proverbially short but can’t be equated with mass amnesia. Images of dead bodies buried in sandbanks or floating in the holy river continue to haunt.
Among those who suffered bereavement are families of internationally renowned, eminent musicians from Varanasi. Nor can it be forgotten that those who complained about mismanagement were charged under draconian laws and persecuted. These included BJP legislators and supporters. Modi was equally fulsome in lauding the UP CM for ensuring the Rule of Law in his state. Here again, it is difficult to believe that the PM is unaware of ground realities. In UP, the thin line between eradication of crime and elimination of the accused has always been blurred but when the PM of India pats Yogi’s back, it aggravates the existing Problem of Credibility.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University