Saturday, April 26, 2014

Contest, or no-contest, for Modi in Varanasi is the question Benares asks

Varanasi/Benaras/Kashi: The people of the city are proud of the fact that theirs is a seat of culture and that it holds a special place on the India and even the world map. They show the poise of a cultured city and refuse to be drawn into the whirl of excitement over BJP’s Narendra Modi and his main challenger AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal that is to be seen and felt in the media and rest of the country. Says Prof R.P.Pathak, former head of department of political science at Benaras Hindu University (BHU), “Whether or not there is a Modi wave, there is certainly an anti-incumbency wave.” He thinks that the Modi candidacy is part o the hidden agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to saffronise politics in eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar.
The responses of the people after Modi’s dramatic show of strength when his followers thronged and choked the streets in the cantonment area where the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate filed the nomination on Wednesday are varied. “Varanasi has not seen such numbers ever before,” bubbled Raja, owner of an apparel shop on the Dashashwamedh Ghat street in the centre of Kashi, near the Vishwanath temple. He shows me the pictures he clicked of the Modi crowd on his mobile. He says that Modi win is now a certainty.
“This crowd is not all from Benaras. Most of them are from Haryana and Delhi,”says Debashsis Kanjilal, owner of a saree shop, Mohini Mohan Kanjilal in the narrow lane leading up to the Vishwanath temple. His is a Bengali family settled in Benaras for 150 years, and the shop is 90 years. Prashant, 26, a graduate and auto-rickshaw driver puts the number at two lakh and not more than that. All of them say whatever the size of the crowd on nomination day, there is o doubt that Modi is winning.
Rakesh, 42, of Harmony Bookshop at Assi Ghat, where you can pick up a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood and he says business is good. He says, “It is just Modi all over the place. I do not know why.” He thinks that the Muslim vote will not go for Modi. This turns out to be right. At Madanpura, the Muslim neighbourhood where most of the weavers of the famed Benaras saree are struggling to make a living, there is a polite anti-negative sentiment. They do not show any anger or resentment. It is a plain political battle for them. A small group sitting at a wayside tea-vendor’s place, say that May 12, the voting day in Varanasi, is still weeks away, and they will decide on a secular alternative to Modi near the voting day.
Raja says that Modi’s victory margin is now the issue, not his win. Here the figures are bandied about in a pseudo-mathematical way. Fifty per cent of the Varanasi vote is with Modi, and the other 50 per cent will be shared by all the other contestants, says Raja. “Modi will win over Muslims,” he gushes. He believes that Modi is going to announce measures that will help the downcast Muslim weavers and that will change their attitude. The Madanpura street opinion is quite clear about the equation of the conspicuous minority with the BJP. “The BJP says that it will not seek Muslim vote, and we will not vote for it,” says a middle aged man refusing to be identified. Baba, who says that he does not work but he serves people, gives a little more complicated answer. He thinks that the Shias, who form a minuscule minority among the Muslims in Benaras, might vote for the BJP, but that the Sunnis will vote for AAP or Congress or even the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Kailash Nath Chaurasia.

Prashant, 26, a graduate and an auto-rickshaw driver, is angry with the earlier BJP MP from Varanasi, Murli Manohar Joshi. “He (Joshi) did not do anything for Benaras. He would have lost had he conteted,” he says with anger in his voice. He predicts that in the next two weeks, Kejriwal will fade away, and Congress’Ajay Rai will move to the second position.
Ram Yash Pande, 30, doctoral student at the BHU who is working on a comparative study of Valmiki’s Ramayana and Tulsi Das’ Ramcharit Manas, and who hails from a well-off agricultural and business family in Azamgarh, says that the students are divided between pro- Modi and anti-Modi camps. He cautions that the mood of the students at the BHU is not that of the voters because most of them come from other parts and they do not have their vote in Benaras. Also, half of the Varanasi lies in the villages and it is not confined to the urban parts of Benaras. He says, “Next election people will vote for Kejriwal. But in this election it will be for Modi.”

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