Mission Uttar Pradesh: Decoding Narendra Modi's speech in Varnasi

For a day the holy city of Varanasi tweaked its everyday slogan of Har Har Mahadev to Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate addressed a rally there. Many expected him to make a speech that could be in sync with Hindutava while the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate was in the spiritual capital. 

There was reason for it. Kashi had once been part of the unfinished agenda of the VHP and Modi's itinerary on Friday included a visit to Sankat Mochan and Vishwnath temple. However, Modi kept let that remain a matter of personal faith and steered clear of any such issue that could be deemed even remotely contentious in his speech.

Instead he chose to speak on issues that could be the biggest leveller to all concerned, issues that go beyond the boundaries of caste, class and religion: the cleaning of Ganges, new age power looms to revive manufacturing of famous Banarasi sarees and other social, economic and  emotive issues related to development.

If in other rallies in UP like in Bahraich and Agra he sought to invoke sub-nationalist pride by reminding them of their electoral might, of their power of sending 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. He also told them of the road to Delhi could only be through Lucknow, the state had given the nation eight Prime Ministers, including the current UPA leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, and how despite all of that that the state remained backward.

Modi at the Varanasi rally. PTI

Modi at the Varanasi rally. PTI

It seems that by the time he travelled to Varanasi for his fifth rally in the state, Modi was confident of the kind of mobilisation he has succeeded in creating in the nation's most populous state. So he picked another route to tap into their pride and give his audience a sense of commitment.

"Those who consider UP is important only because of the large number of MPs that it sends to the Parliament, and can make or break a government, are in fact insulting the people of the state. Is UP important just for the numbers in Lok Sabha? My thoughts are not so narrow. I can’t see India developing without UP realising its potential and adding a lion's share in nation building,” Modi said.

He spoke at at length about the Ganga but it was more to do with the river’s exalted status in Indian culture and social traditions, rather than of its religiosity.  He spoke of how a clean Ganga would be symbolic of a new rising India and the new economy it could usher in.

"If the Sabarmati in Gujarat could be cleaned and its banks beautified, why can't the same be done for the Ganges? But to do that a cleaning process has to first start in Delhi," Modi said.

Thousands of crores of rupees have been spent since 1985 to clean the Ganga that runs over 2500 kms from the Gangotri in the Himalayas to Ganga Sagar in the Bay of Bengal, through a completely centrally sponsored scheme Ganga Action Plan. However, the Ganga continues to be as remain as polluted and the water flow is getting depleted.

To make his vision for development sound socially inclusive, Modi narrated how he received a letter from a Muslim resident who lived in an area that had several power looms. He said the man had complained that the noise emanating from these machines did not let him sleep peacefully and the man had asked him to look for a solution.

Modi and other BJP leaders are acutely aware that a resounding performance by the party in four states, particularly in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan wouldn't have been possible without the support of a section of Muslim voters and without the hostility of the community decreasing.

If they could achieve that level of success the party knows it has to try and make some inroads, in neutralising the Muslim community’s hostility to the largest extent possible. Power supply and power looms have been an issue with the weavers not just in Varanasi but in almost all other districts of eastern UP. Most of those engaged in weaving or in handloom belong to poorer sections of the Muslim community.

And with the mention of poverty, Modi also resorted to his now famous sarcasm targeting Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. The BJP leader likened him and the Congress with students who prayed to God for an easier examination paper and marks on the day of the examination.

"The Congress starts chanting garib, garib, garib.. when elections approach," he said, to which the gathered crowd cheered .

He upped the aggression against the Nehru-Gandhi family at this rally by also alleging that it was the family, which has been in power the most since Independence, was responsible for keeping a large number of people below the poverty line.

"If anyone is responsible for so much of poverty, only one family has to be blamed," he said.

Modi also spoke about Uttar Pradesh having seen 'Ram Rajya' at one time, but chose not to elaborate on this statement. He mentioned it due to its cultural connect but mentioned nothing of the contentious Ram temple in Ayodhya despite the fact that a large picture of Lord Ram was right behind him on the dais.

"But you have not been electing right governments. Perhaps you didn’t get the right leader," he said.

When the organisers in the BJP had selected a huge barren chunk of land at Khajuri, Raja Talab, many thought it was ambitious to hold a rally at a location that was 22 km away from Varanasi. But thanks to the organisational skills of the local party unit and Modi's ability to attract crowds, the venue was filled to capacity with over a lakh people present.

Murli Manohar Joshi’s presence on the dais and his speech before Modi indicated that he will contest parliamentary elections from Varanasi. The veteran is not giving up his seat in favour of Modi and as Firstpost had reported earlier Modi is no longer thinking of contesting from Varanasi or from any other part of UP.

The BJP's  leaders in the state are presently are on a high and are fully charged as the elections approach. They see a Modi wave coming that they believe will prove to be bigger than the one seen in favour of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998.

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