|Narendra Modi waves at supporters during his roadshow ahead of filing his nomination in Varanasi on Thursday; (below) Manmohan Singh and wife Gursharan Kaur show their fingers after casting their votes in Guwahati. (PTI and UB Photos)
Varanasi, April 24: In the city of “Ganga-Jamuni sanskriti” symbolising its melting pot culture, it was the Ganga that was in spate today, whipped up by what Amit Shah described as a “tsunami”.
Riding an open jeep that took two hours to cover 3km, Narendra Modi stood out in pristine white against the saffron backdrop provided by thousands of supporters in BJP caps and masks who crowded the streets of Varanasi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate arrived to file his nomination.
The BJP mascot appeared to savour every second in the scorching sun, waving and folding his hands in greeting to acknowledge people perched on rooftops, balconies and vehicles stuck in the choked traffic. “Har Har Modi, ghar ghar Modi,” the saffron crowd chanted.
As 117 seats across the country voted, a minute-by-minute telecast of Modi’s show of strength on national television made light of the Election Commission ban on campaigning during polling.
“The Modi wave has now turned into a tsunami,” crowed Amit Shah, the right hand man of the Gujarat chief minister who is also in charge of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh campaign. “Congress, SP and BSP will be swept away by this tsunami,” he said.
The boast drew a quick retort from the Congress, which said: “Tsunami can only bring devastation and grief. What Amit Shah has said is something very ominous. We should be worried.”
Worried is something Modi was not, as he got on the jeep at Malhadiya Square after garlanding a statue of Sardar Patel. “I feel like a child who has returned to his mother’s lap,” he said. “Neither has anybody sent me nor have I come on my own. Mother Ganga has called me to Kashi,” he added.
There was not a single Muslim name among the four who proposed Modi’s candidature, but he spoke of preserving Varanasi’s “Ganga-Jamuni sanskriti” — the very tradition that Sonia Gandhi, addressing a rally in Gujarat today, said he stood opposed to. ( )
By saying “Ganga-Jamuni sanskriti”, Modi appeared to be referring to the melting pot culture of Varanasi, where Hindus and Muslims have traditionally lived in harmony. Shehnai exponent Ustad Bismillah Khan was seen as its symbol — the reason that BJP managers wanted his grandson to become the proposer for Modi.
While the Bismillah family refused, the BJP mascot kept up his attempt at symbolism. His name was proposed by freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malviya’s grandson Girdhar Malviya, Hindustani classical vocalist Chhandu Lal Mishra, boatman Virbhadra Nishad and weaver Ashok.
Modi said he would strive to make Varanasi the “spiritual capital” of the world and clean the Ganga like the Sabarmati in Gujarat.
Symbolism extended to the statues the BJP mascot garlanded. The first was that of Malviya in Banaras Hindu University, which he had founded. Second, Sardar Patel and third, Swami Vivekananda. Modi had also intended to pay his respects to Babasaheb Ambedkar but for some reason skipped it.
Congress and ruling Samajwadi Party members “cleansed” two of the three statues, alleging Modi had “tarnished” them. Congress workers washed Malviya’s with water from the Ganga while the Samajwadis used milk to “purify” Patel’s.
The Congress also complained to the Election Commission against the live telecast of Modi’s roadshow while polling was on in 117 seats. “We do not want just issuing of notice. We want action,” the party said, asking why the poll panel was “not alert”.
According to the law, campaigning in any seat has to be stopped 48 hours before polling. The commission also bans telecast of exit polls until all rounds of polling are over, on the ground that these can influence voters.
“The benefit of today’s show will be visible across eastern Uttar Pradesh and also the adjoining states like Bihar,” Amit Shah said.
The BJP appeared to have pulled out all the stops to put up a mammoth performance. Most schools in the city and shops in many markets were shut. BJP leaders and cadres were out on the streets from early morning to mobilise crowds. Many traders were asked to open their shops after attending the show. Varanasi votes on May 12, the last day of polling, but the party sought to send out the message that it had already swept aside all adversaries.