Varanasi has its own charm. It has charmed the world time and again with its beauty, flurry of activities and assumed proximity to divinity. The land of pilgrims, temples, and tourists has been recently accommodating travelers belonging to a different segment – politics. In the last two months or so, political leaders, followers, and observers had made Varanasi their favourite hangout. The common images of priests blowing conch shells and pilgrims taking dip in the Holy Ganga got replaced by political roadshows and fierce campaigning.
There has been no dearth of spectacles worth capturing. From experiencing an almost stampede-like situation at Rahul Gandhi’s four-hour rally to watching Kejriwal perform Ganga Aarti, too much has been happening to be documented properly.
The city started hogging the nation’s attention after Modi decided to contest from Varanasi and make it a gateway to gain more support in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Despite being a small entity with almost a negligible presence in the city, the Aam Aadmi Party mustered enough courage to challenge him. In a place like Varanasi, where the electorate has been choosing between the Samajwadi Party and the BSP for years, both the AAP and the BJP share a common objective of breaking into the gated territory and emerging as the only alternative.
Anyone who has taken a stroll along the streets of Varanasi would have found a mélange of political events taking place. Be it Modi’s Chai par Charcha (discussion over tea) or Kejriwal’s Chaupal Sabhas (corner meetings), significant interest in the developments was felt among the locals. The Congress candidate Ajay Rai’s door-to-door meetings were also closely followed and discussed.
What started as a contest between the BJP’s PM candidate and Arvind Kejriwal, transpired into a crucial venue for electoral battle among other political parties as well, as they started following suit to make this an encounter to remember. But is Varanasi enjoying the newfound attention it is getting? Is it going to stay happy with the temporary boost in local economy with political tourism bringing benefits for local businesses? The answer is No.
Honestly, the local problems and the concerns specific to Varanasi didn’t find a mention in the fiery speeches at the rallies and public addresses. The city’s growth has been dwarfed by the lack of infrastructure. Roads with pot holes, frequent power cuts, open sewers and cases of extortion are certain issues, which are evident only after an initial assessment.
It is not the sound and fury of political campaigning that the town would like to tolerate for long. What it needs is a decisive political party that sincerely thinks and acts on ground issues, including low employment rate and inadequate healthcare and education facilities. Modi juggernaut won’t be of any use; AAP’s tenacious campaigning might not come to anything; Rahul Gandhi’s gracious waving at the crowd will be forgotten if the winning party does not accomplish what it is expected to. Whoever hopes to have the last laugh, people of Varanasi will only respect the results not the rhetoric.