Butting heads in Varanasi: Modi roadshow meets AAP's jansabha
Varanasi's fabled bulls stayed out of it. But BJP and AAP came to a headlong collision as Narendra Modi's road show ran smack bang into an AAP jansabha in Varanasi leading to a shouting match with the CRPF forming the Line of Control.
“Aaj toh lathicharge 101% pucca.”
The Aam Aadmi Party volunteer grins as he says that but the CRPF men standing on the divider on the road at the Ravidass Gate in Varanasi are not smiling.
The Aam Aadmi Party is setting up stage at the corner for a Kumar Vishwas jansabha. And the BJP supporters are amassing at the same corner to cheer and wave at Narendra Modi’s thumb-my-nose-at-EC roadshow.
Elections 2014 is coming to a frenzied finale in Varanasi – theatrical, melodramatic and utterly filmi and just a slogan away from conflagration.
The collision between a river of saffron and white caps in front of the red brick gate as the sun went down could have been easily the brainchild of some Bollywood scriptwriter with a cast of hundreds of extras. The atmosphere is electric – both charged and oddly festive with orange BJP parasols and Modi masks and Aam Aadmi jhadoos and tambourines. Each side daring the other, goading each other on, sounding like rival poets at some kavi sammelan as they tried to out-slogan each other.
Abhi toh Sheila haari hain.
Ab Modi ka baari hain.
UP bhi Gujarat banega.
Kashi se shuruwat karega.
Modi kaisa neta hain
Kejriwal se darta hain.
Bhagoda bhagoda bhagoda.
While kamal-wallas stayed largely on the VIP luggage store side of the road and the jhadoo-walas stayed on Samsung showroom side, the twain do meet –sometimes in heated debate.
Your Modi is afraid of losing . That’s why he’s fighting from two seats.
Arre, your Kejriwal will be crushed in Modiji’s chakki. You don’t know what you are getting into, you Sonia’s tattu.
Ok, not exactly debate. But in a political season where the main candidates never actually have to debate each other, this is as good as it gets.
“Badhiya mahaul hain, (First class atmosphere)” yells a man with a lotus cap into his phone to someone. “Come here soon.”
“This is a very exciting election,” says bespectacled ninth-grader Vandita Singh gesturing at the crowds around her. “India has many colours. There is white and there is also orange.”
Singh does not have a vote but she’s already planning ahead. “Next time I can vote. And Modi-ji will still be there.”
As the Modi motorcade finally reaches, preceded by scores of BJP supporters on motorbikes pumping their fists in the air, the crowd gets completely frenzied. The CRPF swing into action pushing people off the divider and yanking errant saffron-ites straying into the white side and vice versa. The slogan-shouting gathers pitch. Tempers fray. Collars are seized.
Even though at this corner the two sides seem evenly matched, at least in decibel level, BJP supporter Dr. Arun Pandey says the AAP supporters are just out-of-towners. “None of them have a vote,” he says dismissively. “They are just doing suicide.”
“But they are very trained campaigners,” he concedes as AAP volunteers in matching brick red kurtas jump on the stage together raising slogans as Modi passes by.
BJP office-bearer Vishwanath Srivastav, his car stuck in the melee, shrugs and says, “It’s democracy. Let them shout.” "They will regret later," opines Bhishmadev Trivedi who says he is putting heart and soul into the Modi campaign.
But the shouting match turns ugly as well. A window is shattered in an Aam Aadmi Party car. AAP media coordinator Prerna Prasad is struck on the head and injured. AAP worker Ravi Kumar Chaudhry says three AAP volunteers were injured but they are not fazed. “Why should we fear? There is no fear, no shikawat. This is about violence versus ahimsa. They are doing what they have learned. We are doing what we have learned.”
That’s the narrative AAP is trying to play in Varanasi. Outnumbered and out-resourced, they want to piously claim the higher moral ground in this passion play in the old temple city. Elements of the BJP, high on electoral adrenaline, are in fact louder and rowdier at this particular junction. The AAP hold hands in a human chain and while some of them give as good as they get screaming across the CRP divide, others look on with an air of mild reproof as if considering breaking into Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram at any moment. “We are Gandhiwadis. We oppose by ahimsa,” says Jagdish Buniya. “What is these people’s sanskriti? Throwing stones!”
“The BJP is not showing good conduct,” says Kumar Bahadur Singh. “They could go forward or backward. They didn’t need to create vivaad (dispute) right here.” Singh who has a home in Benaras is actually a Congressi from Bihar. But he admits his party is not really in the fight here. He says the BJP supporters might try to create a sea of organge caps but Kejriwal is connecting from the inside – “andar se jooda hai.” Then he shakes his head ruefully and says “If Rahul-ji was a bit of a fighter like Kejriwal, arre kya…”
But Arun Pandey dismisses the idea that this is a real fight. “It’s completely one-sided,” he says. “We will have record turnout, more than 70%. And Modi will win by at least 2 lakhs.”
“Whatever you say poora Benaras chamak giya (all Benaras is electrified),” says BHU student Sarvesh Dubey. “All of India’s eyes are on Kashi.”
“Look it's as if it’s India on one side and Pakistan on the other,” says his friend Siddharth Rai gesturing at the crowd. “And the CRPF is the Line of Control.”
At the end of the evening business is brisk at Pehlwan’s lassi shop on the corner. And finally saffron and white do meet without altercation, abuse or a Line of Control as they sit next to each other slurping down freshly-churned lassi from clay cups. The lassi-churner wears an AAP topi but the Banarasi pan-walla next to him has a lotus cap. But their customers wear both and it does not affect the service they get.
As far as BJP and AAP go, this is not quite the fabled Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb but in an increasingly high-pitched confrontation it’s as close as we can get to one.
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