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What Varanasi expects from Narendra Modi

Varanasi: The Varanasi voter is tired of labels, whether it’s the oldest living city in the world or the centre for brocade weaving. People here want development, but many are convinced it cannot be at the cost of peace or the agenda of divisive politics.

Written by Shikha Trivedy | Updated: March 21, 2014 02:24 IST

File photo of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi

Varanasi: The Varanasi voter is tired of labels, whether it’s the oldest living city in the world or the centre for brocade weaving. People here want development, but many are convinced it cannot be at the cost of peace or the agenda of divisive politics.

On Manikarnika Ghat, where Hindus cremate their dead in Varanasi, the festival of Holi is played with ash – a tradition many believe is as old as the Ganga. But the river has changed – no longer clean and pure, but dirty and polluted. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s supporters claim only he can save the Ganga, and protect the culture of Varanasi, its dharma.

One of them is Sanjay Nagar, a small time businessman who belongs to the 25,000-strong Gujarati community settled here. He says that the main issue here is one of protecting cows, Hindu religion and the Ganga. He wants the slaughter of cows for beef to be stopped and the river to be transformed, just like the Sabarmati in Gujarat. Mr Nagar is convinced that only Mr Modi appreciates these issues and has a right to be Varanasi’s representative in the Lok Sabha.

But many others here, mainly businessmen, who have lived through the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and the bomb blasts which rocked the holy city in 2006 and 2010, say that development should be Mr Modi’s only agenda. Deepak Behl’s family has been living and doing business in Varanasi for more than 100 years. He is firm that people like him are voting for Mr Modi because of his pro-industry credentials and for no other reason. And that if the BJP rakes up religious issues, it will be reduced to nothing. People will reject it because they want development and good governance, not riots.

Mr Modi’s appeal as a progressive leader cuts across caste and class in a city which has seen no development, even though it has been represented by a BJP MP in five of the last six Lok Sabhas. That’s why Saurabh Shah, a young steel trader, is excited at the prospect of Mr Modi’s win from here. He believes the city’s chronic electricity and transport problem will be solved.

But the city’s Muslim population believes development in Gujarat, constantly held up as Mr Modi’s great triumph, is not inclusive. And that the lives of Muslims and the areas they live in have not improved. Maulana Abdul Batil, a young cleric from the Pili Kothi area dominated by weavers, is backing Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal. He claims the Aam Aadmi Party is popular amongst young Muslims in the city because of the issues it has raised, and could provide a secular alternative to the community.

But Mr Modi’s fans say he will change their destiny by providing employment and other opportunities to improve their lives. Naturally, the expectations of the people of Varanasi from Mr Modi are high, that he will restore the city’s ancient glory and rescue their future. But that’s not why the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate chose this constituency. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won just two of the 32 seats in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. In order to win UP, they must sweep this region. Mr Modi from Varanasi is their best bet.

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