At Assi Ghat, Pappu chai shop is an institution. It is also considered a BJP den.
At 8 pm on Friday night, a few hours after campaigning ended, BJP leaders and supporters, wearing the metallic lotus symbol, were at the tea shop joking about Narendra Modi’s victory margin. And, as a ritual, they mocked ‘outsiders’ Aam Aadmi Party.
Just then, a white car stopped in the narrow alley and two men – Arvind Kejriwal and his close associate Manish Sisodia – stepped out.
There was a stunned silence for a moment; conversations stopped, and people peered to check if it was the man who had given a twist to the electoral battle.
Kejriwal walked up to Manoj, who runs the stall, and asked for a cup of tea. He was mobbed before he could proceed any further. Camera phones were out, people – young and old – queued up to shake hands, and when he sat, there began an epic struggle to get in a word, and get noticed.
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The same people who were minutes earlier discussing Modi’s scale of victory greeted him warmly. One boy said all but his sister – a Kejriwal fan – in his family would vote for Modi. Another burst into a spontaneous song praising AAP.
How did his campaign go? “Achha. Good,” Kejriwal told HT, adding he had just come for tea since “it is all over now”. He continued to be mobbed; an old man said Varanasi could see a possible upset, and a Congress supporter admired, “This is called an aam aadmi.” The AAP leaders made a swift exit, but the impact was perceptible.
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Manoj explained why Kejriwal was received warmly in a BJP den: “Because he is a sher (tiger). He may win or lose, but he has made this a contest. And Banaras knows how to respect strength.”
Kejriwal’s visit perhaps sums up the nature of the Varanasi election campaign, which came to an end on Saturday with Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav’s road-shows.
Pappu chai shop is a metaphor for the city, and reflects the BJP’s natural advantage in the constituency.
But its response to Kejriwal also reflects the democratic spirit of the city, where, barring a few incidents, a fierce political fight is underway peacefully. It also shows that the world’s oldest living city has a tolerant core, welcoming friends and rivals.