Varanasi since time immemorial has been known as the place to attain moksha (nirvana) – for an enlightening and enriching transition from lok to parlok (from worldly to the heavenly). It is renowned for the Baba Vishwanath temple, the Ganges, its ghats, the famed Banarasi sari, lassi, paan, poori sabji-jalebi and for its rich socio-cultural and literary traditions.
But things have changed since the summer of 2014, when Prime minister Narendra Modi decided to make his parliamentary debut from Varanasi. Though this ancient city’s importance and its connect to the terrestrial and the extra-terrestrial remains, it has now also become the place to attain political nirvana – to catapult from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
The iconic chants once reserved for Kashi Vishwanath have been turned into victory slogans for Modi – 'har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi'. The place has become a political mahakumbh – anything and everything that happens here gets the highest visibility. Be it political leaders, students or political analysts, Varanasi is the best place to witness the depth and perspective of the ongoing Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Just like in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, polling in Varanasi will take place in the last phase. Even during the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, polling took place in the seventh and last phase in Varanasi.
Back in 2014, the milling crowd, human waves, people along the roads, balconies and roof tops waving BJP flags and chanting Modi's name had provided captivating pictures that influenced the mindset of voters in favour of BJP. One could witness the same sight, enthusiasm and chants dominate the streets of Varanasi on Saturday, when Modi visited various temples in the city as part of his road show.
Back then, he had come as a BJP candidate, standing atop a mini-truck with a handful of UP policemen following him for protection. On Saturday, he came back as Varanasi MP and the prime minister, on a heavy-duty bulletproof SUV with paramilitary personnel forming an inner and outer security cordon around him.
Modi is known for doing unconventional things. According to sources, he went against the wishes of the security agencies and greeted people through the sunroof of his custom built SUV. His road show started at the Banaras Hindu University helipad and then moved to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, Ravidas Gate, Lanka, Assi, Sonarpura, Madanpura, Godaulia, Bansfatak and Gyanvapi. He then went from Kashi Vishwanath to Ka Bharav temple Chowk, Nichibagh, Maidagin, Kotwali, Visheshwarganj, Pahli Chauhani, and Gujarat Vidya Mandir.
His road show traversed through Muslim-dominated areas like Sonarpura and Madanpura and evoked a lot of curiosity among the community members. They came out in droves to see him. But will they vote for him? Well, that’s another question altogether.
His visit to the Lord Vishwanath and Kal Bhairav temples, two forms of Shiva, surely had a latent or even obvious Hindutava message. It is a move which no other party can dare to oppose.
What was striking was that way back in 2014, when Modi had held a road show in Varanasi to file his nomination papers, the Congress had cried hoarse, alleging that Modi had indulged in impropriety and illegality, as he was doing so on a day when polling was on in other parts of the state and the country. Today, again, Congress leaders like Rajeev Shukla charged Modi of impropriety and illegality for holding his road show – without permission and without prior intimation to the Election Commission.
Saturday shall always be seen as a case study by leaders and students of politics, for all the key political players in the UP elections – Modi, Mayawati and the Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav combine – converged in Varanasi to seek blessings in the biggest Hindi heartland state.
Before Rahul and Akhilesh could begin their road show, however, Modi had already stolen their thunder. He had set the agenda. Television news channels did not give good coverage to the two “UP ke ladke”, but then the two ladke (Rahul-Akhilesh) came at a time when the man (Modi) had already taken the morning freshness, leaving viewers with a bit a fatigue.
Next time, Rahul and Akhilesh should remind themselves of the age old phrase, “morning shows the day”.
Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 18:05 PM