This temple town is no stranger to huge, unruly crowds and traffic jams. But when Congress candidate Ajay Rai held a road-show here with actor-politician Raj Babbar on April 17 ahead of his nomination, Kashi appeared impressed.
BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi prays in front of a statue of former politician Madan Mohan Malviya during a rally in Varanasi. (AFP photo)
Five days later, AAP candidate Arvind Kejriwal, too, brought crowds to whip up the ‘aam aadmi’ passion. “They drew nearly equal-size crowds, but Rai being the local man had more Kashiites in his show, while Kejriwal had to rely on outsiders.
“But what followed on Thursday was unprecedented,” said Anil Kumar Singh, a Banaras Hindu University teacher, on the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi’s impeccable showmanship — he arrived on an open motorised chariot to mesmerise Kashi.
Vikas Huda and Rajesh Gangwani, two local businessmen who had closed their shops to be at the Modi show, told HT that this was their first brush with a nomination procession. “There was so much hype, such expectation and such euphoria that one felt like witnessing it live.”
While assessing the exact size of the crowd in the Modi show — planned to the last detail by his chief strategist Amit Shah — isn’t easy, locals put the figure at 1 lakh-plus against the 40,000 people AAP and the Congress managed between them.
Visibly disturbed, AAP core team member Manish Sisodia told HT: “Numbers don’t mean anything. In any case, our great strength is the ability to connect with the common Kashiite, something that Modi can’t do.”
Even as the Congress, SP, BSP and AAP leaders cried hoarse across the country over the Modi brigade hiring outsiders to make the saffron show a grand success, Kashiites seemed to be enjoying their moment of glory. “It’s good to see Varanasi in the focus, road-show or not,” said Chattu Yadav, a resident. He said he was a Kejriwal fan, but after Modi’s road-show had switched sides.
Dharmendra Singh, a local politician who recently switched loyalties from the Congress to the BJP, said, “Probably the adulation Modi got on Thursday was last witnessed in 1979 when people here had waited to hear Indira Gandhi despite her arriving nearly 10 hours behind schedule.”
Clearly not happy at the reviews that Modi’s show got, the Congress and AAP have got busy countering the saffron euphoria. “Mine was not a road-show. If only numbers matter, I’ll prove my standing by holding a massive rally. In any case, Modi managed the show by getting outsiders. Where was Kashi in it?” asked Rai.
Sources say that an unnerved Congress is now busy trying to boost its Varanasi campaign. A local party leader admitted: “The real fear is that if we can’t put up a good fight here, it’ll send out a wrong signal across whole of eastern UP.”
The BJP, which had just four of the 21 seats in eastern UP, is looking to make substantial gains in the region. That perhaps explains why so much effort is made on the road-show. Sources said the BJP and RSS volunteers had got busy nearly 10 days ago to ensure the success of Modi’s nomination campaign.