Prime Minister Narendra Modi resumed the second leg of his mega road show on Sunday in the temple town of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, ahead of the final phase of polling in the state on March 8.
A large crowd of supporters and BJP workers eagerly awaited him, as the Prime Minister flew to the Police Lines in a special Indian Air Force chopper from the airport and made way in his bullet-proof car in a convoy to Pandeypur area, from where his second leg of the road show was to commence. Varanasi is also Modi’s parliamentary constituency.
A number of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders greeted Modi at the helipad and presented him bouquets.
Thousands of people were lined up along the five-km route -- from Police Lines to Kashi Vidyapeeth -- and the enthusiastic crowd occasionally broke into chants of “Modi, Modi”.
A huge number of Muslims also turned out at the road show.
Even though Muslims turned out in large numbers as Modi’s road show passed through their localities, many said the gesture may not translate into votes for BJP candidates in the Prime Minister’s parliamentary seat.
“He is our Prime Minister. If Vanarasi progresses, then so will we, but the BJP does not like us,” said Rafiq Ahmed, a septuagenarian trader in Madanpura.
Muslims appear to be solidly behind the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, virtually ruling out any serious split in their ranks on March 8, when the city goes to the polls.
A division in Muslim votes in 2012 played a role in the BJP’s win in all three assembly seats in the city.
Asked if they would vote for Modi, some youths shot back, “How many Muslims have been fielded by the BJP in UP? Zero. We are 20% in the state but not seen good enough even for one of the 403 seats. Why should we vote for him?”
If some Muslims give credit to the Prime Minister for launching developmental schemes aimed at Varanasi and increased cleanliness, there is also lot of resentment over demonetisation, which has especially hit hard the weaving community, comprising mostly Muslims.
Abdul Rauf, a handloom dealer, is disappointed over Modi’s handling of weavers’ concerns but says he continues to have hope in him.
With their Banarasi sarees having lost sheen post the note ban, many weavers express their unhappiness with the BJP’s policies. Besides there are old fault lines, including the party’s Hindutva pitch, that deeply divide the community and the saffron outfit.
Zubair Ahmed (26) says in a lighter vein that even if some of them vote for the party, nobody will believe them.
He says he knows a few friends who had voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when Modi contested from Varanasi. “Our non-Muslim friends laughed when we told them”.
Rafiq Ahmed says it was after a long time that Muslims were united in supporting one candidate (SP-Congress nominees) in Varanasi as they were earlier divided between these two parties, who always contested separately.