Big infra push, no tough opponent a boost for PM’s bid
First, he is the prime minister who has a story to tell his voters. Varanasi is a changed city in five years. The overhead electricity wires are now underground, the ghats are clean, and the civic infrastructure has improved.Updated: May 02, 2019, 12:22 IST
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bulletproof SUV rolled into Assi crossing during his roadshow in Varanasi last Friday, the crowd broke into a frenzy. As he waved to the hundreds thronging the streets and huddled on rooftops and balconies, loud chants of “Modi, Modi…” rent the air.
“Being a resident of the prime minister’s constituency is a privilege,” said Anand Pandey, a medical representative who came to Assi crossing to catch a glimpse of Modi. “Nobody wants to lose it.”
Modi won his first Lok Sabha battle from Varanasi in 2014, polling 580,000 votes and defeating Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party by a margin of 370,000 votes. He is seeking re-election from the same constituency and looks set for an easier ride.
There are two reasons for it.
First, he is the prime minister who has a story to tell his voters. Varanasi is a changed city in five years. The overhead electricity wires are now underground, the ghats are clean, and the civic infrastructure has improved.
When he took over, Varanasi had been crumbling under its own weight. The big push he gave to infrastructure projects has left voters impressed.
Two cancer hospitals, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) status to Banaras Hindu University’s Institute of Medical Sciences, a highway connecting the airport to the city, two more bridges over the Ganga, the Kashi-Vishwanath corridor, separate plants to treat sewage and solid waste, a rice research institute, gas connections for 100,000 families, free power connections for another 125,000 families, and houses for 15,325 families are among several benefits Varanasi has received in the last five years.
All these schemes were directly monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the execution was done at a rapid pace. “Modi was ‘hope’ in 2014. He is a ‘belief’ in 2019,” said a BJP office bearer who works closely with the PMO on Varanasi projects but did not wish to be named. “Today, the change is visible.”
Abhinav, who reads ceramic engineering at Indian Institue of Technology - BHU, will vote for the first time in a Lok Sabha election. He is impressed with the improvement in law and order. “You can see girls and boys sitting on the ghats along Ganga till late in evening. This was not the scene earlier.”
Another group of IIT BHU students asked, “Who is there against Modi?” This is Modi’s second advantage in Varanasi.
The buzz about Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra contesting from Varanasi had promised to spice up the fight, but it died out. Congress has fielded Ajay Rai, a former MLA and its 2014 candidate. Rai polled 75-000 odd votes in that election.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) on Monday replaced Shalini Yadav, who unsuccessfully contested the 2017 mayoral poll, with former BSF trooper Tej Bahadur Yadav, who was dismissed from service two years ago after he posted a video on social media complaining about the quality of food served to jawans.
On Wednesday, however, Tej Bahadur Yadav’s nomination papers were rejected by EC, forcing the SP to fall back on its original choice.
“It is surprising that the opposition has not been able to find a strong candidate against Modi,” said Aatib Ahmad, a man in his early thirties who works with an app-based cab company to raise his family of three. “Modi is surely winning, but there should have been a contest at least.”
Satish Rai, who taught political science at Kashi Vidyapeeth, said, “Congress is stronger than the SP-BSP alliance in Varanasi.”