Varanasi comes to a halt as Modi juggernaut rolls
It was arguably the largest crowd Narendra Modi has attracted during his election campaign, a show of strength to silence the BJP's opponents, particularly the AAP, that has dismissed a "wave" in favour of the party's prime ministerial candidate.
And, if seen from above, it would have seemed like thousands of bees were heading for their hive - the destination being the statute of BHU founder Madan Mohan Malvyia where Modi was to pay tribute before filing his nomination papers for Varanasi Lok Sabha seat on Thursday.
Under the scorching sun, the crowd, which began massing from 6 a.m. did not budge despite the repeated threats of police baton charges and Modi arriving two hours late. When he did come - for a change, clad in a white kurta and pyjama - the crowd went into a frenzy, scrambling to catch the glimpse of Modi with people elbowing, jostling and even hitting out at each other.
The cacophony of conch shells and sloganeering hailing Modi reached its crescendo when he bowed before his supporters and waved to them - seemingly endlessly.
The city seemed to be in a state of euphoria as normal life came to a halt with traffic jams and shuttered shops as tens of thousands of people accompanied the Gujarat chief minister Narendra who traveled atop a truck for filing his nomination papers. There were people from all walks of life but the common thread that ran among them was the saffron cap and Modi mask. Some BJP workers even forced curious foreign tourists, many who were here to do 'election tourism', to wear the boat-shaped caps.
"Never have I seen such a huge rally in my life," said an awed Ram Kuhar, a resident of Varanasi.
But there were also dissenters.
"This pomp and show is fine but it has caused so much of inconvenience to me. I cannot cross the road," lamented a 60-year-old woman to an IANS correspondent.
As Modi's vehicle inched its way to the district magistrate's office, people showered rose petals on him. Many were perched on the road dividers and many more watched the show from windows and roofs of homes on both sides of the roads.
Modi's main opponents here are Ajay Rai of the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
With around 1.6 million voters, Varanasi will go the polls on May 12 the last round of the 10-phased general election. The results will be declared May 16
(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 24-04-2014)