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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 7 MARCH, 2017

3 Reasons Why PM Modi Spent 3 Days in Varanasi


NEW DELHI: Finally the dust is settling in Varanasi, after three days of road shows, speeches, meetings et al. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned to Delhi and Varanasi voters are doing what they are renowned for: discussing the aftermath.

It was a blitz with the Prime Minister not sharing the stage with anyone, except himself. There was not a single candidate visible in his public forays. The media supported the visit with lengthy and of course, positive reports for full page advertisements in the local print editions that covered the 3 days. The critics, including BJP rebels, insisted that the PM had been working like a “city corporator” followed with muffled laughter and side glances for fear of being heard.

In the midst of these discussions also emerge the reasons why PM Modi had decided to spend three days in Varanasi in at least two road shows, several public meetings, discussions with groups of intellectuals, and individuals even as the BJP workers were told that unless they moved to deliver, they would be made to see the end of the road after the elections.

The reasons why the Prime Minister ran around his Lok Sabha constituency day, and late into the night, that the media wants to ignore but which the silent voters of Varanasi share are:

Demonetisation: This is one of the reasons why PM Modi had no choice but to rush to the Lok Sabha seat and cover its Assembly segments after being elected from here in 2014. The rebellion of the Mallahs has been covered by a small section of the media but this well knit community of boatmen on the Ganges who have openly refused to vote for the BJP in these Assembly elections. They make it clear that notebandi has hit their business, “crippled us” as one of them insisted, and this is a loss that has eaten into their homes.

The small traders and shopkeepers all across Varanasi are upset, as are the jewellers, the zari suppliers who are not big and hence have been hurt badly by the demonetisation. A jeweller in the zari business told The Citizen that his work had come to a standstill, the family was almost in debt, and that “we are certainly not going to vote for the BJP, not this time.” He admitted that his entire family had voted for PM Modi in 2014.

The daily wage workers are hit by notebandi as well. A group standing outside a small kirana shop in Rohinya, a rural Assembly constituency that PM Modi visited as well and spent several hours addressing a public rally and speaking to groups later, told The Citizen, “our lives are destroyed. Price rise, notebandi has all hit us.” Will you vote for the BJP? They refused to speak on this but shared their woes about the impact of demonetisation on their earning capacity. “There is no work,” said the more articulate one in the group, “this notebandi has taken away our livelihood and look at the prices they are soaring.”

A senior Banaras Hindu University professor speaking of the adverse impact of demonetisation to The Citizen said, “many of us were not aware of this because we are salaried people and those who are upset are very silent. But my political friends now tell me that those on the lower end of the economic scale will not vote for the BJP as their lives have been hit, and they are silent because they scared of being targeted by lumpens. They do not want to engage with that, but are not going to vote for the BJP so easily.

Rebellion in the Ranks: At least two key Assembly constituencies--Varanasi South and Varanasi Cantonment have been hit by rebellion within the BJP. The prestigious South constituency in particular has the larger part of the BJP up in arms against the decision of the party to pass over a favourite and 7-term sitting MLA Shyamdev Roy Choudhary for an unknown RSS functionary and advocate Neelkant Tiwari. This hit the core support of the BJP in the city, and despite several efforts BJP president Amit Shah was not able to contain the rebellion. Any number of rebels met The Citizen, openly airing their anger and frustration before PM Modi arrived in Varanasi.

It was made clear by the rebels to the party top brass that the BJP would lose the two seats, a fact noted and reported back in the assessment. PM Modi and Shah reportedly handled the issue with the carrot and stick approach, with many expecting a ‘purge’ as one of them told The Citizen, after the polls are over.

Failed Promises: PM Modi’s own image had taken a beating in his own constituency, and what the BJP has claimed as its ‘garh’. His ‘neglect’ of the constituency had become a sore point with residents openly decrying him and the BJP for not fulfilling the many promises he had made in 2014. As an advocate campaigning now for Congress party’s Rajesh Mishra said, “I was with the BJP, but Modiji has let us all down. He promised so many things (he listed the many) but has not fulfilled even one.” This sentiment found a echo all over Varanasi city with the PM’s own interest in Varanasi being questioned. As a party worker said, “now they (people) are saying he is from Gujarat when earlier they would all say he is ours.”

That perhaps was the fundamental difference in perception that was not hidden by the voters. And by the party itself with functionaries finding it difficult to assuage the common grievance of neglect.

PM Modi thus, had little choice but to visit the constituency and make peace with the constituents. Whether he needed to spend the three days in an Assembly election, he alone can tell but this has got all his opponents mocking him in their speeches, and has spread the word that he and the BJP are worried, and jittery. BJP leaders try to counter this with, “what other leader would care so much for his constituency” but in the Varanasi discussions at the paan shop this does not seem to be holding sway.

And what has been the influence of the PMs attention now on the Varanasi vote? March 11 carries the answer to this question.

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