“Yeh Dilli walo me kuch akal nahi hai”, says Shyamlal Mali, 35, the go-to-guy at Dasashwamedh Lodge, a popular resting place among the tourists in Varanasi. His lack of confidence on the smarts of Delhi people is caused by the regular stirring speeches and slogans by the Aam Admi Party members – a majority of whom are import from the capital of India, and Maharashtra, Bangalore and Gujarat. “How they shout throughout the day. There is no peace anymore. People will go to the polling booth on the 12th, vote in silence and come back to their homes. No need for such hungama”
In the last few weeks, areas near Dasashwamedh ghat have changed dramatically. The peaceful locality – a stone’s throw away from the holy Ganges has become the epicenter of pre poll publicity by all political parties as the several phases of voting, started on 7th April, nears conclusion on 12th this month.
The fever has caught up with many of the locals, too.
“Har Har Mahadev” praise to lord Shiva, formed part of its daily noise along with sound of prayers, temple bells, cymbals. These days, “Har Har Modi” has replaced the age-old chant, less in sincere affiliation to the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, more to irk the Aam Admi Party members. Wherever, the AAP members campaign, the BJP supporters shout “Har har Modi” to drown the efforts.
Under a scorching sun, the political heat rises steadily in the nooks and crannies of the narrow lanes. Nestling between the pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, cut outs and masks of Narendra Modi can be seen in the shops. Modi masks have become the new Spiderman paraphernalia among the school going kids. Sweet shop owners and neighbours greet each other with “Namo Namo”, acronym for the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate.
Behind most of this visible passion lies a sense of Hindu sentiment and well-calculated business expectations. Dasashwamedh being the traders’ hub is populated by people of Baniya (traders) and Brahmin communities. Water, electricity and better roads remain the common demand as lack of these spells doom for business. “Modi ji talked about improving tourism in his speech. It is a good thing for us”, said Ved Mukti shastri, 45, an astrologer in the lanes. Though, Indian voters are used to pre-election promises not being delivered, at Varanasi, they are desperate to buy into the development rhetoric made by Modi.
So, last evening, when the Aam Admi Party decided to hold a sabha (meeting) near the Dasaswamedh Ghat, it seemed, they were being big time optimistic. Earlier in the day, a public meeting by Modi was canceled in Beniabagh – a Muslim majority area. The authorities cited fear of a riot.
As the AAP meeting started, the lack of enthusiasm among the locals was stark. Hardly any had joined. It was AAP members giving speech and listening to it themselves. There was no bigwig present to pull crowd. Yet, slowly but steadily the crowd got bigger. BJP supporters wearing saffron caps and scarves and lotus (symbol of BJP) badges, gathered, too.
Santosh Kumar, 35, a whole sale shop owner listened attentively. “I have been a BJP supporter all my life”, he said, but this year not a party will get my vote. The vote will go to the imaandar (honest) man. “I have relatives in Delhi. They said how electricity bill came down from 4000 rupees to 2000 rupees when Arvind kejriwal was Chief Minister.” I’m going to vote for someone who works for the people.
Not everyone agrees. Vinod Kumar, 42, a saree salesman thinks it was a blunder of Kejriwal to leave chair 49 days in the job. The AAP supporters painstakingly try to equate Arvind Kejriwal’s stepping down with that of freedom fighter and post independence leader Lal Bahadur Shastri’s from the post of Railway Minister. Shastri stepped down following a railway accident that killed many; Kejriwal in protest of not passing an anti-corruption bill. But hundreds of thousands like Vinod Kumar remain unimpressed. “Bhagore” the escapist don’t make good administrators. It is Narendra Modi he is pegging his hopes to.
Yet, both the Kumars feel that nobody will have undivided attention from the voters of oldest living city. A big chunk of Muslim votes will go to Ajay Rai – a powerful congress candidate who has been able to woo the Muslim voters in past. Varanasi, like the rest of India, is deeply divided in caste, class and religion dynamics. Rai, a member of powerful Bhumihar (landowner) Brahmins has an assured community votes of more than 1.5 lakhs. Also, Modi’s history with Godhra and Gujarat riots will have a red-sea effect on communities, especially the Muslim population. “The lower castes will not vote for Modi”, says, Vijay Shah, 57, a local businessman – and a BJP member since its inception in the 80s.
However, the fact that AAP does not affiliate to any specific religion or caste has had its ups. Irrespective of the locals’ mixed feeling towards Kejriwal, the anti corruption angle of his party has won hearts. Many feel a big change is coming over in Indian politics with AAP promising to take side of the common man. Also, enthusiastic activities by young AAP members seem to have impressed many. Their early morning campaigning at the ghats – the time devotees bathe in the Ganges – and round the clock people to people communication have been successful in turning the tide even in this strong BJP foothold. “Many will wear a BJP cap in the mohalla (locality) but when they have to vote they will do it with Vivek (conscience)”, said Santosh Kumar.
Political analysts too feel, silent votes will make interesting dynamics in one of the most dramatic elections in the history of India.
By Sudhiti Naskar / agency genesis