Even before electioneering reaches its peak here, Banaras is flooded with giant hoardings of candidates in the fray, prominently the SP, BSP and Congress candidates. What surprises majority people is the fact that there is hardly any hoarding of Narendra Modi. But when one speaks to the people, every second person proudly says voting for Modi. “Ihan Modi k hava naahin, aandhi havai” (Not just wave, there is Modi storm here) was the first reaction that I received from a rickshaw puller, Surajbhan, immediately after reaching Banaras on April 26.
After Modi’s road show on April 24, the battle seems to have turned one-sided and the rivals are seen only trying to make their presence felt by staging different ‘acts’. Some observe silence at the Ghats, while some manage attacks on them to catch media attention. “I was thinking to vote Kejriwal but now I feel it will be wasting my vote,” commented Brijesh Shukla, a MA Political Science (final year) student outside Banaras Hindu University (BHU), the largest residential university in Asia.
Banaras became the epicentre of political battle for 16th Lok Sabha the day BJP declared Modi's nomination from this seat. Political observers feel by filing nomination from this seat Modi has literally influenced 120 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP and Chhattisgarh and it will prove to be a milestone in his journey to the South Block.
In the beginning, all anti-Modi candidates including Ajay Rai of Congress, Arvind Kejriwal of AAP, Kailash Chaurasia of SP, Kamla Kinnar and Vijay Prakash Jaiswal of BSP, tried to woo three lakh Muslim voters. But since the day Mukhtar Ansari and Ajay Rai, both notorious history-sheeters and one time arch rivals, came together with single point agenda to defeat Modi, this equation collapsed. Now position of Kejriwal has become tremendously awkward as he had landed here only banking upon these votes. The SP and BSP have been reported clandestinely entering into an alliance with the Congress on this seat to defeat Modi. This is the reason the candidates of both these parties are hardly seen campaigning. “We knew a situation might come when the SP, BSP and Congress would team up against us. We are prepared for that,” says Shri Ashok Pandey, BJP state spokesperson.
Out of total 30 lakh population, there are 17 lakh voters in Banaras. Apart from 3 lakh Muslims, there are 3 lakh Brahmins, 1.5 lakh Bhoomihars, 1.5 lakh Patels, 2 lakh from other states, 1 lakh Dalits, 80,000 Mallahs and about 2.5 lakh OBCs. The seat has been a BJP stronghold as it won five of the last six parliamentary elections.
The voters’ mood is clear, hence the issues. Since Modi is known for innovative initiatives, people feel he would definitely change the condition of Ganga and also the destiny of weavers. “Only two statements of Modi—on Ganga and Banarasi Saree—changed all poll equations here. Both the issues are close to the hearts of people. If they are resolved according to their aspirations nobody will be able to defeat Modi from Banaras for at least 20 years,” says Dr Rajiv Srivastava, Prof. of History in BHU. However, Prof Dhananjay Pandey, former director of IIT BHU, wants world class status to BHU and Sampoornananda Sanskrit University. Prof. Omprakash Singh, Director, Madanmohan Malaviya Journalism Institute, Kashi Vidyapeeth, wants world heritage city status to Banaras, the process which began during Atalji’s time but could not be completed. Dr Guruprasad Singh, Prof of Agricultural Science in BHU is confident that Modiji would make Banaras the best city of the world. Kejriwal is an outsider for everyone in this holy city, but nobody says it about Modi. Prof Kaushal Kishore Mishra, political analyst and a Prof at Political Science Department, BHU, reveals an interesting fact. He says Modiji is ‘a Khanti Banarasi’ (pure Banarasi). Quoting a book, Kashi Me Gujarati Samaj ka Yogadan published around 1956 he points out that Modi has blood relations with Banaras. The book finds mention of one Shri Damodardas Modi who used to sell tea at Kabir Chowk and was highly respected in the city. “Modiji himself told me that his mother said his father lived in Banaras in young age. It indicates Modi’s father was born in Banaras,” claims Prof Mishra.
That Kejriwal is a political face of naxalites and left outfits is no more a secret here also. Around 1000 people from JNU and left leaning NGOs are working for him. When I tried to know the views of Prof Ramagya Rai Shivdhar, a known left ideologue in BHU, on it, he just said they would do everything to defeat Modi.
From BHU to Ganga Ghats, Sankat Mochan Mandir to Vishwanath Temple, tea venders to paan venders, rickshaw pullers to tax drivers, hotel boys to professionals everybody seems to be reciting ‘Namo Namo’ in Banaras. It is literally Ghar Ghar Modi. Phoolchand (65), a cleaner at Sankat Mochan Mandir for 30 years, says, “Modi k hava havai.” Pt Gajananda Pandey at Dashashwamedha Ghat predicts Modi has come here to liberate Maa Ganga. Rajendra Nishad and Madan Nishad, two boatmen at Rajendra Prasad Ghat, say, “Vote to kamal wale ko hi dena hai.” Yadavas, the traditional vote bank of Samajwadi Party, too are seen searching new options. The comment of Rajpal, a taxi driver, catches the attention when he said, “Akhilesh Yadav has disappointed us.”
The nomination of Ajay Rai litrally caused a stampede in Congress. Four prominent leaders of the party joined the BJP. Not only this, the traditional Congress voters are confused as to how to support Ajay Rai, a hard core criminal. Prominent Congress leaders who joined the BJP are Awadhesh Singh, Ashok Singh, Dayashankar Mishra and Dharmendra Singh.
By and large the result of this battle is clear. Modi is going to win with huge margin. But with this victory is coming a long list of aspirations—the aspiration of cleaning the Ganga, renovating the Ghats, ensuring world heritage city status to Banaras, saving the dying handloom industry and above all providing basic amenities suiting to the basic character of the world’s oldest living city. Modi has the challenge to rise up to the expectations of the people.
–Pramod Kumar in Banaras