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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Opposing sentiments greet PM Modi’s Varanasi roadshow

The rally saw tens of thousands of supporter turn up, besides a number of prominent artists, musicians and national awardees.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 27, 2019 21:00 IST
Snigdha Poonam
Snigdha Poonam
Hindustan Times, Varanasi
PM Modi,Varanasi,Modi in Varanasi

“Please, I don’t want to answer any questions about [Narendra] Modi, yesterday’s rally or Indian elections,” said a suntanned white man strolling on Varanasi’s Tulsi Ghat, all set to run if further pressed. He did run but only for a few metres before turning back. “I could tell you what I think if you promise not to name me,” he said. It turned out the United Kingdom citizen had a lot to say on the subject. “I have been here [Varanasi] for a long time. I was here at time of 2014’s elections as well. Then people seemed very frustrated with the Congress party and its links with corruption. Modi promised change,” he said, constantly looking to his left and right to check if anyone else could hear him. “But corruption is worse under him. How can Indians not see that? He is favouring industrialists while ordinary people are suffering. Demonetisation destroyed them. But he is treated like god. You tell me — what is it that continues to attract people towards him?”

The prime minister held a roadshow on April 25, a day before filing his nomination paper from the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, which he won in 2014. The six-kilometre roadshow culminated at the Dashashwamedha ghat, where Modi offered evening prayers. The rally saw tens of thousands of supporter turn up, besides a number of prominent artists, musicians and national awardees.

The Irishman’s question was answered on the other end of the Ganga’s sprawling riverfront, on Dashashwamedh ghat, by a woman sitting at the feet of the prime minister’s massive cut-out, a selfie hotspot for visitors of all ages. “The amazing thing about Modi is that he brought the rich and the poor at one level,” said Suman Gupta, watching the elaborate evening aarti (prayers) with her husband and young daughter. Demonetisation did stall her husband’s business of clothes trading for months, but the family didn’t lose faith in their leader. “I cook at a house in the city so I was able to support the family during that time with my income. His business is slowly picking up now. But we are glad that all the black money came back,” said Gupta, not interested in debating facts of the matter. She is convinced a Modi-led government is good for the poor. “From state housing to scholarship for girl students, he takes care of every aspect of our lives.” The family will be voting for the BJP once again. “I vote as my husband says. Wife should follow husband, isn’t it?”

On the fabled Assi ghat, boasting “India’s first pizzeria” and the city’s most robust cows, Sunil Kumar from Ghazipur was witnessing a greater spectacle — brighter lights, bigger audience — than Dashashwamedh’s world-famous aarti: a live news television debate. “Priyanka Gandhi didn’t contest from Varanasi because her brother told her not to,” the Bharatiya Janata Party’s spokesperson on the panel shared his original insight with the viewers. “And you know this because you were present in the room while they discussed this,” the Congress representative retorted. The audience broke into raptures at every insult flung across the stage. Standing in the last row, Sunil Kumar kept a straight face. “BJP can win in Varanasi but it is wiped out in other places in UP. In Ghazipur, Mau, Azampur — BJP ka safaya hai.”

Who will he vote for? “See I am a [SP-BSP] gathbandhan walah. Party hamari BSP hai. If Behen ji [Mayawati] has gone with cycle [SP], then we will also go with it.”

His life hasn’t improved in the past five years. “Naukri mili hi nahi hai [I haven’t found any job]. I got through entrance exam for primary school teachers but appointments are held up and may be cancelled because of corruption. People are suffering under Yogi Adityanath government. Cows are eating away our crop. People who have 10 bighas of land can cope, but what is someone like me who has one bigha supposed to do? In the next assembly elections, BJP may not even win a single seat.”

His views on the party’s central regime are no better. “Modi government is all jumla (talk). People faced a hard time because of demonetisation. Not one of his policies has profited ordinary people. Even the air strike was ineffective. Not a single plane was damaged in Pakistan; not one of their people died.”

On the photogenic Darbhanga Ghat, a UP policeman ordered his tea at 7 pm as per daily schedule. Like most of his colleagues, he had a hard time the previous day managing the passionate throng of Modi followers as they marched screaming and shoving through the city’s narrow streets. He doesn’t think the excitement for Modi will turn to a win for the BJP. “BJP ka dabdaba (muted influence) hai, but the Yogi government is not so liked,” he said. What about his own vote? He said he didn’t know yet. “One has to admit that Modi is deserving of the prime minister’s post; no other leader is. Second thing is that no matter who people vote, somehow he will manage to be back as PM,” he said. And third, he noted, there is the matter of the Electronic Voting Machines. “If EVMs are not tampered with then gathbandhan will win in UP, if they are then it will be the BJP. But you tell me — can an EVM be tampered with?”

Plying his boat from ghat to ghat, Raju bhai wondered why people are debating options at all. “Modi is the number-one man, whatever his government’s policies. The boat-wallahs are behind him. He is coming back.”

First Published: Apr 27, 2019 21:00 IST