SEEMA MUSTAFA | 5 MARCH, 2017
2 Road Shows And the Signals From Varanasi
NEW DELHI: Varanasi turned into a sea of humanity on Saturday with the first half of the day being taken up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘road show’ across congested gullies, and the second half belonging to UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as their road show stayed on the road for a few kilometres before moving into the gullies.
The excitement in Varanasi was palpable, and the tension visible at pan shops and dhabas long after the event as different political groups argued, debated and insisted that their party was winning not one, but all the eight Assembly seats.
The local voters moved from one rally to the other to see the turnout for themselves. More so, as most persons spoken to in Varanasi before said that they were waiting for Saturday to guage the mood of the silent voters in the city.
PM Modi did not declare his to be a road show, maintaining that he was just going for a darshan at the temple. But a road show it was, leading the Congress party to file a complain with the Election Commission that the PM had not taken permission for the road show, and yet ensured it was one.
The Prime Minister is sufficiently worried about the outcome, to camp in Varanasi for three days, with yet another roadshow planned for Varanasi later today, Sunday. This has provoked many critical comments from within the BJP with workers privately saying that this kind of campaigning does not behove a PM. “Shobha nahin deta hai,” is the refrain in Kashi that has genetically believes in hierarchy and its preservation.
Hundreds of buses ferried people from neighbouring constituencies as the BJP under president Amit Shah pulled out all the plugs to demonstrate that Varanasi remained the PM’s constituency, and the voters determined to vote the BJP into all Assembly segments here. Senior Ministers of the Union Cabinet have been camping here with Shah, as have top functionaries of the RSS from different states, as have MPs and MLAs from other north Indian states.
The show was big, there were young people, and the route taken by the PM was through densely populated gullies with local residents watching. There was enthusiasm, but locals insisted that this was not comparable to 2014 when Varanasi had brought the PM in as its MP. However, most said it was a success, and wondered if this could be equalled by the SP-Congress alliance with their roadshow later in the day.
But to their surprise, it was. And more so, insist many who travelled with both. The youth were out in large numbers for the Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi show given a touch of glamour by the CM’s wife Dimple. Many women were visible at points as a result, and only a part of this road show was through dense areas, the beginning and the end particularly on the main roads that did not have a captive crowd of residents. The roads were cramped, with party flags and the people covering every inch of the space.
Those who were looking at the road shows to determine the results of Varanasi came away more confused than before. This was partly because the status of Varanasi as a BJP ‘garh’ was effectively challenged by the Alliance, leading to renewed debate and discussion in this highly political constituency.
Those with the Alliance, however, are jubilant. As they are the challengers in a city claimed by the BJP as its ‘garh’. The road show and the initial response shows that the challenger has effectively penetrated the walls of power, and many insist loudly money, and has sent out the message that it is in the fray giving a fight to the BJP and PM Modi for every seat.
This also reflects the story of the UP elections. As till date Varanasi, despite the consolidated effort, has not responded to the efforts to communalise the vote. Several persons on the road before the show of strength by all today told The Citizen that Kashi was not going to respond to divisive language. Why? “Because we have faced it all, and we have not allowed communal violence here after 1992,” was the refrain.
There are many messages coming out from the two road shows of Varanasi that can be carried across UP. Primary is that the strong effort to communalise the elections has not worked to the extent expected by the BJP, as the crowds drawn to the Alliance roadshow were dominated by the youth and all castes, including of course the minorities.
The speeches by both Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi attacked PM Modi for failing to fulfil all the promises he had made in 2014; and laugh away his statement on qabrisatan and shamshan ghat with the poke, “ he is also dividing electricity” along such lines. The focus remained on development, and a new UP led by the two younger leaders who have been promising to personally take the state forward.
PM Modi too spoke of development, attacked the SP and Congress for doing nothing for the people, but in his campaign there was no other, except himself. The candidate of the BJP in Varanasi South is an unknown RSS worker, and the denial of the ticket to the 7 term MLA from here has stoked a rebellion. However, the Prime Minister’s road show did little to project this unknown candidate, the effort being to convince the people to vote for him. It is true that PM Modi is the brand for the BJP, but whether this will work in an Assembly election as it had in the Lok Sabha polls remains to be seen.
Development for the youth who seem to be driving the polls, not just in Varanasi but across UP, seems to be more important than divisiveness. All across the youth chip into conversations with a “we want jobs” refrain. They were present in large numbers in both road shows, but the enthusiasm evident at the Alliance rally was clearly extra-ordinary for Varanasi where voters also describe themselves as residents of a “BJP garh.”
Akhilesh Yadav has struck a chord amongst the youth in particular, and he along with his wife Dimple really turned the Alliance road show around. This despite the fact that the candidates from the city are both from the Congress party. The excitement was all around him, and even in the responses it is the CM who figures. This response extends outside Varanasi and has been visible to those who care to see, albeit in varying degrees ranging from the moderate to the intense.
Interestingly as Varanasi again demonstrated the Alliance is keeping away from caste and religious politics. The appeal is for bhai chara, with promises of a pro-youth, pro-farmer government in Lucknow. The BJP’s over reliance on PM Modi takes the issue of development to New Delhi, but this is being cut into for the past few weeks now with the appeal that a BJP government at both the centre and the state would help PM Modi develop UP at a fast pace. And that the people should repose trust in him.
Whether they vote or they don’t in the final analysis, the Kashi voter has realised that the BJP is worried and the PM has had to devote three days for the campaign. This has become a major issue of sorts in the gullies of Varanasi with the ordinary person referring to this mockingly, even as the BJP workers counter it albeit a little defensively. It was also referred to by the Alliance leaders in their speeches, clearly playing on the local sentiment of a PM now giving up his foreign travel to spend three days in his constituency during an Assembly election.