Aditya Sinha: NaMo, NaMo on Varanasi's lips
Everyone in UP is as devoted to Narendra Modi as to Lord Shiva, despite the lack of progress, which is blamed on the Samajwadi Party
Widows of Vrindavan celebrate raksha bandhan with Modi rakhis on Sunday. Pic/PTI
A visit to Varanasi last week witnessed a continuing paradox. Though it has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary constituency for over three years, it is still an infrastructure crumble. It was raining when I reached - parts of this never-ending small-town were flooded a day earlier, and it rained on schedule the three days I was there - and as usual in India, rain doesn't clean a place so much as spread its filth and poverty. The roads were unmotorable. A huge bypass being built from the airport was still being built. Roads in the old paanchkos were all dug up to lay underground electric cables, provoking the stale joke, "Upar khuda, neeche khodai" (God above, digging below). Only the e-rickshaws Modi introduced provided cheer - an easy, convenient and eco-friendly mode of navigating the narrow roads and narrower flagstone lanes - but there is still enveloping chaos provided by cycle-carts, hand-pulled carts, bicycles, motorcycles, Toyota Innovas, pedestrians and the ubiquitous ambling buffalo. "Unity in diversity" is all you can charitably say about Indian roads. "If this is the PM's constituency, just think how it is in non-VIP constituencies," a friend said.
Yet, everyone I met was as devoted to Modi as to Lord Shiva. One common refrain is about the lack of constituency improvement in the past three-plus years: It is blamed on Akhilesh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party that used to run Uttar Pradesh for much of the three years. Now that Baba Yogi (aka Yogi Adityanath) is CM, everyone exudes optimism that Varanasi will soon become paradise. One gentleman said: "What the others (the Congress, etc) took 60 years to mess up, Modi will need at least 10 years to fix." A shastriji said that Modi took over at the beginning of a seven-and-a-half year astrological period, so for those seven-and-a-half years there is no chance of anyone displacing him; I told him that you don't need antardashas to figure that out, all you need to do is look at the Opposition, who collectively look like ganja addicts at a cremation ghat.
Since it is Shravan, Lord Shiva's month in the Hindu calendar, the lanes around the temples were a crush of devotees. One fellow escorting me around mouthed the oft-repeated line that India's main problem was overpopulation. "Modiji should do surgical strikes in all our cities," he added. Obviously, to Modi-supporters and other middle-class Indians the real culprits of overpopulation are Muslims; to their minds Muslims are equated with Pakistan; and that the way Modi had 'fixed' Pakistan is the way to 'fix' the aforementioned problem. The fact that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) wants Hindus to have four children each is brushed aside.
This is not to say there are no Congress supporters in Varanasi. I met some of them at a dinner party - including a former MLA who was shockingly wiped out in the recent Assembly election. They were seemingly in disarray. The only positive thing in their favour was that Baba Yogi had still not got a grip on maintaining law and order, the fundamental duty that each citizen expects from the State. UP has always been notoriously difficult to govern, and the people he had inducted to run the bureaucracy appeared out of their depth. Baba Yogi tried to emulate Modi by spreading rumours about how much time he spent in late night meetings, at the expense of sleep, but that image was deflated when his underlings installed and removed an AC during a visit to an armed forces martyr's home. Locals claim his mutth in Gorakhpur is air-conditioned and that he does not shun the good life; and that in any case, Modi didn't want Baba Yogi to upstage him with this 'burning the midnight oil' image.
Despite all this, even Congress supporters believe that Modi will get 60 seats out of UP's 80 in the 2019 election. They are in limbo, awaiting directions from their state leaders; and no one wants to talk about party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is seen as well-intentioned but not optimally aggressive. "He recently got a drone and spends his time with it," someone whispers to me. How is that possible, I wonder, since no civilian is permitted to have a drone. Obviously Rahul can get anything he wants so long as he remains the face of the Congress party.
In Varanasi and the rest of Eastern UP, there is a culture of taking bhaang, an edible cannabis preparation. It appears that Modi is happy to keep feeding Rahul bhaang for eternity, so that Rahul returns the favour with the elixir of eternal power that Modi and the RSS seek. It's a cycle only a Goddess can break. We know who the Goddess is, but we don't know if she's ever going to come through.
Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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