VARANASI: Was it a coincidence that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adtiyanath decided to be in Varanasi as Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated his three years in office? Well Varanasi did not seem to think so, and even as the streets prepared for the CM’s first visit to PM Modi’s home constituency, the chai shops buzzed with : Modiji and Yogiji ki banti nahin hai (they do not get along).

The first indication that Adityanath was visiting Varanasi in his own right, and not as a nominee of the PM, came from the posters and flags that had turned Varanasi saffron for the visit. The posters carried the mugshots of Adityanath alone, with PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah visible only in the occasional banner. And that too in most, Shah’s image was smaller than that of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, both of whom occupied pride of place.

Otherwise it was Adityanath all through, a fact noticed and commented upon by Varanasi’s astute voters. The BJP party flags adorned the streets, but so did those of Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini in equal measure. The message sent out was clear: the CM was not visiting Varanasi under any one’s shadow, not even that of the local MP and PM Narendra Modi. As a BHU retired Professor said with a wry smile, “it is clear what is happening, why ask me? Yogiji is building his own base.”

Adityanath spent the night in Varanasi, his first visit creating definite media interest. The local coverage was by the minute, with the Chief Minister maintaining that he had inherited ‘jungle raj” from the Samajwadi government, and was not responsible for the increasing violence in the humungous state. He has been recently under attack for the violence in Saharanpur where the Dalits were targeted by the upper castes.

At a chai stall, a political hub in Varanasi, the conversation moves into what has now become the predictable Yogi vs Modi charcha. There seems to be an emerging consensus that all is not well between the two, with the CM barely mentioning PM Modi in his meetings or interactions. “I am the leader, deal with me” is the refrain and in Varanasi it seems to be no different.

And interestingly a common story of Adityanath’s ascent has also emerged, with almost identical versions being shared by the Benarsi with a whispered, conspiratorial air. Almost farcical in its seriousness. This is how the street story goes: “Modjiji had decided to appoint Manoj Sinha, he had even told him as Sinha had started the poojas here in the temples before his name was to be announced. All was done, when suddenly the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh stepped in and made it clear that Yogi Adityanth was their choice. Modiji had to agree.”

Manoj Sinha is from the region, hailing from Gazipur. He is now a Minister in the central government, and had been looking after Varanasi for the Prime Minister. Varanasi that has started taking almost proprietorial interest in PM Modi also shared: “Modiji is very fond of Manoj Sinha, and was very very keen that he become the CM as he would then listen to him and run the state as he wanted.”

But Adityanath is not a member of the RSS? “Yes he is not, but he follows the chaal of the RSS.”

But the last question stumps even the best informed. Why would PM Modi agree? No one has this answer. They look at each other and then one says a trifle hesitantly, “he has to follow the RSS.”

And then the recovery. “ Well how do we know what happened inside, but Modji and Yogiji do not get along.” And the rest nod wisely.

And here they have a point. PM Modi has so far appointed Chief Ministers who owe their rise directly to him and Shah, and do not hesitate to express their gratitude at every opportunity. Adityanath has in fact, worked hard to strike out on his own with the social media flooded with videos exalting the the priest turned CM, with the Hindu Yuva Vahini embracing their leader even as sections of the BJP sulked. Interesting really, as first Varanasi hawitnessed the old versus new BJP struggle after the Modi-Shah duo entered the UP picture, and just as many of the old had moved over to the new, Adityanath has arrived to stir the pot.

During his two day visit the CM visited a hospital, reviewed development projects, and has had meetings to clean the Ganga, meeting with the pradhans and others of adjacent villages. He had come not as a representative of PM Modi, but as the Chief Minister of the state.

Adtiyanath sbegan with a visit to the Kaal Bhairav temple.Kaal Bhairav is beleived to be the kotwal of Varanasi, and any one who wants to live in Varanasi has to take his permission. PM Modi did so earlier. CM Adityanatha has done so now.

The city now has two kotwals. This should have left Varanasi feeling quite pampered except that both seem to be tugging on different strings.