The holiest of holy Hindu cities, the culturally rich Varanasi, has eluded the BJP for long. Now, the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is the great saffron hope to revive its fortunes there.
Modi, who is to address a rally in Varanasi on Friday, has his task cut out.
Despite the area being an RSS bastion and home to senior BJP leaders like Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra, Om Prakash Singh and Kesri Nath Tripathi, today it has just one BJP parliamentarian out of 14 in the region – the veteran Murli Manohar Joshi.
The RSS had once coined the slogan “Ram, Krishna, Vishwanath, teeno lenge ek saath. (We would claim Ram, Krishna, Vishwanath together).”
The reference was to the cities of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi. But of that holy trinity, Varanasi has given a cold shoulder to the BJP for almost 15 years.
“The culture of Hindu-Muslim amity, drawn mostly from the rich musical tradition, is part of the reason why the Hindutva agenda hasn’t had a great success,” explained a social scientist on condition of anonymity.
Varanasi is, after all, the city where Bismillah Khan played his shehnai at the Vishwanath temple. Even the 2006 serial blasts that hit the city’s famous Sankat Mochan temple had not been able to breach that amity.
And Modi’s gesture of avoiding the Vishwanath temple during namaz at the adjoined Gyanvapi mosque would hardly go unnoticed.
While Modi has a personal stake too — Varanasi is one of the four places shortlisted for his poll candidature — social scientists see the visit as token gesture to keep the committed Hindutva voters happy.
“Like all his rallies, this one too, would make an impact nationally,” said Professor Ashish Kaul, retired professor of sociology, Benaras Hindu University. “But the exact impact Modi would eventually make in the region is yet to be assessed.”