Since the day Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal locked horns with each other in Varanasi, the term ‘Holy City Varanasi’ has started to sound like an oxymoron. The battle has become ugly and the atmosphere hostile.
During Kejriwal’s road-show, a few people chanting Modi’s name thought it would be appropriate to throw eggs at his car outside the Kashi Vishwanath temple, while another gentleman, alleged BJP supporter, decided to welcome Kejriwal in ‘Shiv ki Nagari’ by throwing ink at his face.
Senior AAP leader Somnath Bharti was beaten up black and blue, again by alleged BJP supporters, at Assi Ghat during a television programme. Fortunately, CNN-IBN’s national affairs editor, Bhupendra Chaube was around and rescued Bharti from the mob.
Two AAP leaders, Ankit Lal and Nandan Mishra, faced the heat as well. They were injured when another mob of alleged BJP workers assaulted them towards April end. Ankit Lal still roams around with cotton in his ear.
In this context, AAP workers might be feeling like a cat in a bunch of hounds. Even though BJP has denied involvement in these instances, the party has not been alien to unconstitutional behaviour. Right from the days of Babri Demolition to Shiv Sena’s continued belligerence, it is a laundry list. Therefore, when a party with such history and accusations undertakes ‘Satyagraha’, it is bound to be perceived as farce.
The district administration on Tuesday refused permission for a rally by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi's Beniyabagh area, which has a substantial Muslim population. Security reasons and intelligence alerts were cited. However, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the Varanasi administration was obeying an "unwritten order" and there was an "undeclared understanding" between them and the ruling Samajwadi Party. However, in the 1991 elections, law and order problems had cropped up during BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha's rally at Beniyabagh ground and the alerts insinuate that the history might repeat.
Initially, Modi’s Ganga Puja and another public meeting too, was in jeopardy but the District Magistrate, Pranjal Yadav, late on Wednesday, allowed Modi to attend a 'Ganga pujan' ceremony at the Dashashwamedh Ghat in the temple town. Yadav also approved Modi's meeting at Surya Hotel with 150 eminent persons of the society and a public meeting at the Chota Cutting memorial ground. However, Amit Shah complained that the permission came too late and those plans remained cancelled as the party could not make preparations. Arun Jaitley, embellishing the event, asked, "Is Narendra Modi banned from entering Varanasi?"
He further announced that he and other senior leaders would sit on a dharna outside the Banaras Hindu University and outside the Election Commission (EC) office in New Delhi as a mark of protest. This whole fiasco is a manifestation of BJP's scornful disregard towards our constitutional institutions. In an earlier speech, Modi had set a benchmark by accusing the EC of bias, and challenging the authority to file an FIR against him for this comment. The arrogance, accusations and insinuations after denying one rally was baffling.
During the whole election campaign, Modi has undertaken rallies with a frequency of Sachin Tendulkar’s tons. If at all there was a conspiracy, disallowing one rally was never going to achieve anything. By playing the victim card and blowing things out of proportion, BJP has created a façade and mocked the idea of Satyagraha.
Varanasi is not just any other city. The sacred river Ganga flows through it. Gautam Buddha gave his first oration at Sarnath, which is near Varanasi. Bismillah Khan played his eternal Shehnai here.
Talk about irony and you will not find a better example.
Parth MN works with the LA Times, and tweets at @parthpunter.