Gods, Goddesses and Modi in Varanasi (Election Special)
BJP star Narendra Modi is being deified by his supporters in this ancient Hindu city -- with a couplet, which was eventually withdrawn, likening him to Lord Shiva and another modified couplet chanted in praise of Goddess Durga.
Even as the campaigning for the Lok Sabha constituency is yet to gather momentum, supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi are deifying and projecting him as the "sole saviour of Hindus".
Beginning with modified version of the popular "Har Har Mahadev" slogan by which both Hindus and Muslims greet each other in Varanasi, Modi's supporters floated the slogan "Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi". However, this attempt to equate Modi with Mahadev was resented by some Hindu priests and the Shankaracharya of Dwarka, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, even complained to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Modi supporters promptly stopped using the slogan.
Another attempt to deify Modi was made by modifying a Sanskrit couplet used in praise of Godess Durga: "Yo Modi sarva bhooteshu rashtra rupen sansthita, namas tasyey, namas tasyey namas tasyey namo namah", replacing the word 'devi' with 'Namo'.
Modi's name has been shortened to NaMo to make it easy to pronounce.
Vinodanand Tiwari, who teaches Russian at the Banaras Hindu University, believes that only Modi can "effectively neutralize the anti-national, pro-Pakistan elements".
"All those who claim to be secular have only pandered to the Muslims and indulged in Hindu-bashing," he added.
The largely poor Muslim weavers of Banarasi sarees, however, remember the Gujarat 2002 violence and vow to vote against Modi in the Lok Sabha polls.
"We have learnt from our mistakes. In the last elections we unwittingly helped BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi win from Varanasi, just because we rooted for Mukhtar Ansari. We are not going to repeat the mistake this time around," Manjoor Ansari, the leader of Banarasi saree weavers from Madanpura, a predominantly Muslim locality of the city, told IANS.
Mukhtar Ansari, who is in jail on a murder charge, commands good following among Muslims and Dalits. He had contested the last election on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket and polled 160,000 votes. Joshi had scraped through by a margin of only 16,000 votes.
"Modi and his close aide Amit Shah are trying to prop up Mukhtar Ansari this time as an independent candidate so that he divides the Muslim votes to the advantage of BJP," Ateeq Ansari, a prominent leader of the Muslim weavers' community, told IANS.
Obeidullah Ansari, a young weaver from Pande Haveli area, said: "We have understood the game and won't fall into the trap this time."
The Aam Aadmi Party, whose leader Arvind Kejriwal has decided to contest against Modi from Varanasi, does not want to take on Modi on the communal issue.
"We don't believe in vote-bank politics and consider everyone as aam aadmi (common man)," AAP leader Rajiv Mishra told IANS.
"Our campaign is focusing on the pathetic living conditions of the people and grossly poor civic amenities - roads, public health, sanitation, education - in the constituency," he added.
The Samajwadi Party has decided not to field its candidate from Varanasi because, as its supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav had said recently, the party does not want to "divide secular votes".
The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have fielded their candidates.
Electioneering is yet to pick up. A clearer picture is likely to emerge only after Kejriwal begins to campaign here from April 13.
During his maiden visit to Varanasi March 25, Modi supporters had thrown black ink and eggs on Kejriwal's road show.
Instead of tarnishing his image, the incident bolstered Kejriwal's image as a tough match to Modi. This impression of Kejriwal received a further boost among people of Varanasi when Modi announced to contest also from Vadodara in Gujarat.
Both RSS and AAP volunteers have started coming to Varanasi from different parts of the country to campaign for Modi and Kejriwal.
(Nachiketa Desai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 04-04-2014)