VARANASI: Scores of boats are in a state of well-deserved rest after a hard day’s work. At the stroke of midnight, the Ganga is calmness personified. Dasaswamedh Ghat is quiet too. The sellers of Kashi‘s famous ‘neembu chai’, however, are still catering to those present on the ghat – locals in the final round of their talkathon and outstation devotees who have started arriving in the holy city for its biggest festival, Maha Shivaratri, on Tuesday. Six days after that, it will be time for the biggest festival of democracy in Kashi. The poll juggernaut in UP will reach a grand finale on March 7 when Varanasi votes along with six other districts of Purvanchal.
The road from Godowlia to the ghat has been made a no-entry zone for vehicles. It has no dearth of walkers even after midnight. Many from places like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are here to queue up for the Mangla Aarti, the first aarti of Lord Shiva that starts around 2.30am.
Vinay Yadav, who is about to close his shop of silk garments in the lane outside the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, is a rare breed of politician in UP. In a caste-ridden society, his name arrests attention when he says he is an office bearer of BJP.
“Isn’t SP your natural choice?” “Kashi blurs that caste boundary, especially after the arrival of Modi ji in 2014,” he said.
Modi ji, PM Narendra Modi, was here on Sunday. Yadav has just returned from a workers’ meet addressed by him. “Sangathan mein jaan phoonk kar chale gaye (he has rejuvenated the cadre),” he said.
Modi will camp in the city for two days before the final phase on March 7. “Uske baad pura Purvanchal bhagwamay (Entire Purvanchal will turn saffron),” Yadav said. He had camped in Varanasi for two days before Purvanchal round in 2017 as well. BJP won all eight seats of Varanasi then.
But the same can’t be said of the whole of Purvanchal. BJP could win just one seat in Azamgarh. This time, with NDA’s former ally SBSP of Om Prakash Rajbhar in the rival camp, the seven districts of southern Purvanchal look challenging for BJP. The party cadre in Varanasi hope that his extended presence in the city and roadshows will have a cascading effect.
“Imagine, Modi ji is also expected to bail out at least three sitting MLAs facing strong anti-incumbency because of their attitude and unavailability,” said Mudit Singh, a postgraduate student of political science in the city. He votes in Varanasi South that houses the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Kashi Vishwanath Dham corridor. “BJP can’t afford to lose the seat of Baba Vishwanath even if it wins elsewhere,” he said.
“Departure of the likes of Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan has no direct negative impact on BJP. But the party developed cold feet and didn’t follow its earlier decision to drop ‘underserving’ candidates’,” said Vikram Patel, a local trader.
“Modi ji will surely come as a saviour for such weak candidates. Anyway, a BJP supporter hardly votes for the candidate. They just see ‘Kamal’ on the EVM and listen to what Modi ji and Yogi ji say. Our MY factor is unbeatable,” Yadav said.
On Sunday, Modi asked party workers to take his ‘Pranam’ to each household of Kashi. He also said he would keep serving the city till his last breath. That made the locals infer that he would keep contesting Lok Sabha polls from the city so long as he is in electoral politics. That has made his emotional bond with the city stronger.
It can’t be said, however, that he is unconditionally and unequivocally loved by all Banarasis. In 2019, over 3.5 lakh people voted against him. This number was higher in 2014. Some local colleges have a strong presence of SP’s student wing Yuvjan Sabha and Congress’s NSUI. His ‘devotees’ make sure that the image of a ‘Modified’ Kashi is what a person coming to the city takes back home.
The development work done in the past seven years had transformed a substantial part of the city. The Kashi corridor is the latest addition. Shivaratri on Tuesday would be the first after the opening of the corridor. Footfall is likely to go up substantially.
As the city gears up to vote, all parties are ready with a strong line-up to parade before voters. West Bengal CM Mamata Bannerji will accompany SP chief Akhilesh Yadav to attract a large number of Bengali voters in the Cantt area. SP candidate in Varanasi South, Kameshwar Dixit, is throwing a strong challenge to minister Neelkanth Tiwari.
Dixit’s father is the head priest of Maha Mrityunjay temple and thus, he has the support of a section of priests. SBSP also has a significant presence in the city with OP Rajbhar’s son Arvind challenging UP minister Anil Rajbhar in Shivpur.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other Congress stalwarts will join the campaign to bolster the chances of at least two candidates, Rajesh Mishra in Cantt and Ajay Rai in Pindra. Mishra won the LS seat in 2004 to stop BJP’s run. Rai has been a five-time MLA in the past. He won the erstwhile Kolasla seat thrice before the delimitation. In 2010, he won the new seat Pindra in a bypoll and in 2012 as a Congress candidate. After that, the Modi wave changed the electoral maths in Kashi.


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