Mark Twain once wrote, “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. Varanasi has never been short of admirers, tourists and the various nicknames that go along with it. People flock to Varanasi for different reasons. To study, pray, tour, shop for Banarasi sarees. Ideally, the people of Varanasi should have been enjoying their life. However, it is not so. Varanasi is in a sorry state.
The local politicians have never seen Varanasi as a growth engine of the Purvanchal region. It has always been seen as a political engine, to push forth their own political capital and make a nobody, a very relevant persona in National Politics. The population is divided into vote banks and each candidate is left counting the number of brahmins, dalits, hindus and musalmans and where he has the most prominent chance. Development issues seldom make it to the speeches. The sadaks, polluted Ganga and the filthy streets have remained the same since devades. Nobody cares.
With the announcement of Narendra Modi’s candidature there is a new hope amongst a large section of the population of Varanasi. The Hindutva agenda of Narendra Modi does not seem to clash with the development promise that he brings along. His agenda is catching on with the people of Varanasi. They finally have a voice which speaks for unity and development. For the people of Varanasi, this is the ideal combination they could have hoped for- a sangam they had been longing for decades. The pilgrims and tourists kept thronging into the city, but that wasn’t enough to upgrade the city’s infrastructure. The new influx of national media might just trigger the flagged process. Varanasi may just get what it wants- Development.
Narendra Modi, to the voters of Varanasi, symbolises hope, aspiration and pride. Hope because they have finally grabbed the attention of the whole of India. Their issues are now dominating national politics. And where there are issues, solutions come up. Development for Varanasi is very near. Aspiration because they feel that the time has come for Varanasi to rise up and be counted. Pride because one of the front runners in the Prime Ministerial race has chosen their city and they will have the privilege to vote not just for their local Member of Parliament, but also for the Prime Minister of the nation. This time, Varanasi will form the government.
Then there is Arvind Kejriwal who symbolises cynicism and cynicism alone to the voters. His move to Varanasi is not for any agenda or to promise any development, but out of a desire to emerge a giant killer once again after defeating Sheila Dixit in Delhi; to remain prominent in National Politics and in the minds of the Indians. He has no agenda for the people of the city other than to prove that the promises of Narendra Modi are not genuine. He is the media baby, wanting media coverage 24/7. His politics is negative much like the politics of the opponents of Indira Gandhi in 1971. The gas pricing issue and electoral funding by Adani and Ambani has hardly any political capital in Varanasi. Modi’s candidature from Varanasi is uncounterable, unless you tread the paths of polarising the votes between the Muslims and the Hindus.
However, Modi will not enjoy a smooth sail through Varanasi. The Congress may not field a candidate from Varanasi and allow Kejriwal to consolidate the Anti-Modi votes and the minority votes, thus making him a competition of sorts. In that case, the contest in Varanasi will be a triangular one between Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Mukhtar Ansari of the Quami Ekta Dal. In the previous polls 5 years ago, Ansari fought as a BSP Candidate and nearly embarrassed the BJP. In a constituency where more than 665,000 votes were polled, Joshi won by a margin of merely 17,000 votes. Had there not been a Congress candidate in the fray, Joshi would probably have been defeated by Ansari.
Hope and cynicism are set to take a dip in holy waters of Ganga. The dipstick of electoral arithmetic will determine which floats and which drowns.