Nearly three years ago, when Narendra Modi decided to choose Varanasi as his second constituency to seek his Lok Sabha election from, he had invoked Ganga mayya (Mother Ganges) to justify his decision.
He had famously said, “mujhe Ganga mayya ne bulaya hai.”
A large majority of Varanasi voters chose to give him a chance hoping that Modi’s ascendancy to the post of prime minister may give the much-needed boost to the upliftment of this constituency.
Nearly three years have passed, but local residents say that no development projects have taken off since Modi’s election as the prime minister. The anger among voting public against both Modi and his party is visible, but this has not deterred the BJP stalwarts from seeking votes in Modi’s name once again.
Many people, who voted for the BJP in 2014 now feel ‘cheated’ by the ‘false’ promises of their local VIP MP and appear determined to teach BJP a lesson in the ongoing assembly elections.
Varanasi, which has eight assembly seats, will go to polls on 8 March, in the last phase of the assembly polls. In 2012, while the BJP had won three seats, the remaining four had gone to Samajwadi Party (2), Congress(1) and BSP (2).
Five years later, BJP finds it increasingly difficult to retain seats it won in the city with its candidates in Varanasi Cantt, Varanasi North and Varanasi South facing stiff competition from their rivals.
Such is the nervousness that almost entire top leadership of the BJP including many senior union ministers have now descended in Varanasi to oversee the elections here. They include Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, Union Telecom Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Health Minister, JP Nadda, Union Power Minister, Piyush Goyal and several state level leaders including Brajesh Pathak, the party’s candidate from Lucknow Central. They are likely to stay put in Varanasi until 8 March.
Prime Minister Modi himself is expected to stay put in his constituency till 8 March.
Many traditional BJP voters in Urban Varanasi say they are disgruntled due to ‘false’ promises made by Modi in 2014 and the party’s decision to field ‘wrong’ candidates in the ongoing elections.
The voters are also peeved at the lack of development in the city despite it now being represented by a prime minister.
Mohan Srivastava, who owns a grocery shop said, “You should come here during the rainy season. The streets get flooded and city roads are always congested. From which angle, does it look like a prime minister’s seat?”
Similar anger was reflected at Varanasi’s Pappu Tea Shop, which is famous for hosting high-decibel political conversations.
Shyamji Tiwari told me, “There’s no Modi wave here anymore. This time Modi’s own people will betray him. That’s why I say that BJP is losing elections here. People here were emotionally associated with the BJP for nearly 30 years…First tickets were given to wrong people. Then the note ban has affected weavers, small scale industries and the whole of middle class. Only people who are not affected are the rich.”
Virendra Srivastava agreed with Tiwari and said that Varanasi had no Modi Lehar(wave), any more.
He said, “There’s no Modi lehar, what we have is Modi zahar (poison) this time. On 8 March, this will be personal defeat for Modi ji. He’s the prime minister and he’s also aspiring to become the UP’s chief minister as additional charge. If a PM is busy doing roadshow, then you know the difficulties he’s facing.”
Almost every election poster has photos of Modi along with the party president, Amit Shah, and several other central leaders including Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Minister Uma Bharti. The local leaders are almost invisible from the posters.
At Banaras Hindu University, I spoke to a group of ABVP supporters and asked him if the city had experienced any development since Modi won from here. One student told (see video below) me that the city had indeed developed because ‘three years ago I didn’t feel like coming here but now Modi has started Swachch Bharat scheme.’
Even the ABVP student struggled to find any noteworthy example of development in Varanasi since Modi became the prime minister.
In Jayapur, the village adopted by Modi, while people remain loyal to the prime minister, the disquiet over lack of development is more than visible.
Kanhaiya Lal said, “Roads are in terrible condition. The construction work had started only two days before the model code of conduct came in effect. However, the works have now come to standstill.”
Lal also informed that a bus service was started after Modi adopted the village, but that too stopped as the businessman who had donated the bus withdrew the service.
Another villager, Gulab Patel, said that the village still did not have adequate supply of electricity. Patel, however, said that he will still vote for Modi.
In Varanasi South, Congress’s Rajesh Mishra, a former MP, is the alliance candidate of Congress-SP. The BJP has denied ticket to its sitting MLA, Shyamdev Roy Chaudhari, who won this seat seven times in the past. Varanasi South also has significant Muslim population and their vote will be crucial in determining the fate of candidates here.
From Varanasi North, the BJP has fielded Ravindra Jaiswal, but BSP’s Sujit Maurya, who had narrowly lost this seat in 2012 appears to have gained huge momentum in the ongoing polls. Like South, Varanasi North too has a big Muslim population. Abdul Samad, a former SP MLA, is now the Congress candidate from here.
Jaiswal is facing considerable opposition from his own supporters as several disgruntled BJP faces have thrown their hats into the ring as independent candidates against their own party’s candidate.
The BJP is facing rebellion even in Varanasi Cantt because of its decision to field Saurabh Srivastava, the son of Jyotsna Srivastava. Jyotsna had won the seat in 2012, but the party’s decision to allocate the seat to her son has left many supporters angry.
Shivpur assembly seat, which was won by the BSP’s Uday Lal Maurya, in the last elections, is one of the few seats the BJP is likely win easily. Maurya has now joined the BJP even though he has failed to get a ticket from here on saffron party’s symbol.
Rajbhar and Maurya castes form sizeable vote-bank in this constituency, thereby making the seat relatively safe for the BJP, which has also struck an alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Bharatiya Samaj Party.
Another seat, which the BJP is likely to secure without much fuss is Rohaniya, which includes Jayapur village, was won by Anupriya Patel in 2012 but the seat went to SP in the by-poll after she became an MP from Mirzapur on BJP ticket in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
SP’s sitting MLA, Mahendra Patel, is pitted against the BJP’s Surendra Singh and the constituency’s crucial Bhoomihar votes may prove to be a decider here.
Ajay Rai, five times MLA from Pindra from both BJP, independent and Congress, is trying his luck from here once again. Rai had unsuccessfully contested against Modi in 2014 elections.