Two ambitious men have stamped their presence on the holy city of Varanasi over the past two months in their own way.
Narendra Modi, in his muscular manner, has painted the city saffron. He was denied a rally by the Election Commission (EC) in a particular area, and he responded by conducting a massive road show on the same day. Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand, has quietly made sure that the holy city witnesses a deluge of jhadoos and topis. When Modi could not perform his scheduled Ganga pooja because of the altercation with EC, canny Kejriwal slipped in the identical ritual without any hullabaloo at the same time Modi was supposed to do so.
The biggest difference between the two campaigns has been the money power. In this regard, it is a David versus Goliath scenario. Modi’s larger than life crusade has been possible because of the ocean of money at BJP’s disposal that allows him, on regular basis, to address crowds that stretch out like a trackless desert. Plus the billboards, posters and marketing have made his presence felt in every nook and corner of the city. Moreover, KB Hegdewar, the founding leader of RSS, opened the second branch of RSS in Varanasi after commencing it in Nagpur in 1925. And so, Modi has merely consolidated on their robust base with his charisma.
BJP is like an elite family from the city, living within their comfort zone, while AAP is akin to a lower middle class family trying to squeeze in as many things as it can.
Kejriwal had no foundation in this ‘Shiv ki nagari’ and had to start from scratch. The burden of the budget palpably hangs around AAP’s neck as well. Kejriwal though, has turned this negative into positive and adopted a door-to-door strategy to woo people. He has made optimum use of his image of being a well-meaning politician. Whether this approach proves to be the fatal stone or the Goliath dodges it, remains to be seen. The climax, though, becomes as anticipated as a World Cup Final.
In a sense, the Varanasi-battle truly symbolises the Indian democracy. It is a tussle between the established and the ‘outsider’, trying to make inroads with limited ammunition. The deplorable difference, however, is that BJP’s lavish campaign has been accompanied by arrogance. Modi accusing the EC of bias, and challenging the authority to file an FIR against him for this comment, Arun Jaitley’s fiasco of dharna, and BJP’s stand on the DM of Varanasi indicated that the party is already on cloud nine.
This is no insinuation that the EC should be treated as a holy cow, but the tone and manner is worrisome.
As there are bound to be differences, there will be some similarities as well. Both the supremos have not shied away from the attention getting tactics. Kejriwal took a dip in the Ganga, while Modi gave an emotional touch by claiming ‘Mujhe Ganga maa ne bulaya hai’. Both of them have been dramatic, in a sense. The only difference is that Kejriwal’s is a street play, while Modi’s is a broadway spectacle.
Both the candidates are outsiders, and both the parties have imported their top leaders to the city to give that final push in order to be able to cross the line.
BJP, akin to AAP, conducted fund raising programmes and distributed topis, though on a larger scale. It was like a blockbuster director picking up a theme of a low budget art film to make a grand movie on a larger scale with a star-studded cast.
While everyone has been saying it is a riveting contest, Kejriwal deserves credit for making it one. Had he not challenged Modi, would the prime ministerial frontrunner have used as much arsenal and spent as much time in Varanasi? If not for Kejriwal, it would have been a cakewalk for the man from Vadnagar.
Irrespective of the outcome, both of them have left no stone unturned in their own way. Which method succeeds, is anybody’s guess. However, they deserve credit for making it seem like a two horse race where there is a candidate put up by the incumbent government of the centre and where there are two formidable regional players. That is another story in itself.
Varanasi is no ordinary city. One can offer prayers to Sri Vishwanath and, at the same time, pay respects to Gautam Buddha at Sarnath. It is a city where Bismillah Khan played his eternal shehnai. Let us hope, whoever comes out victorious preserves the secular fabric of this holy city.