|A Modi supporter sports a painting of the BJP mascot on his back in Varanasi on Thursday. (AP)
Varanasi, May 8: Denied a ground for a rally, Narendra Modi today virtually hijacked whole streets in Varanasi to stage a roadshow.
It seemed as though the entire city had spilled over onto the roads and alleyways through which the BJP mascot’s entourage wound its way for a good three hours, from the helipad to the party election office.
As the 5km crawl turned into a near-repeat of his April 24 roadshow — when he had filed his nomination — local BJP leaders thanked district magistrate Pranjal Yadav and the Samajwadi Party government for handing the party a “poll-eve bonanza”.
Yadav, also the returning officer, had denied permission for a Modi rally today at the premier venue of Benia Bagh, fearing tension in the minority-dominated neighbourhood.
Led by Modi, the BJP tore into the Election Commission today, questioning its neutrality and courage and telling it not to hold polls if it couldn’t ensure security. But a local BJP official described how the party had turned the rebuff into an advantage.
“Our cadres’ batteries were recharged because they felt cheated by the Samajwadi Party government. Their anger intensified when they heard Rahul Gandhi and (chief minister) Akhilesh Yadav would hold roadshows here on Saturday,” he said.
“The leaders sensed the militant mood among the workers and realised that rather than end the saga by giving in to the administration, they ought to maximise the political gains and keep cadre morale high till polling day.”
So, as Modi waved to the crowds from the front seat of his white SUV, party leaders Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar and Amit Shah sat on a satyagraha with local leaders and workers outside Banaras Hindu University demanding the district magistrate’s removal.
The streets bristled with the “militant mood” the party source had referred to. It seemed almost a throwback to the Ayodhya era, when anyone who dared question the Ram temple “movement” was shouted down or taunted.
Each time a clutch of Aam Aadmi Party activists tried to make their way through the crowds, they were heckled with slogans of “Har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi” and “Pagal, pagal, bhago, bhago (Lunatics! Run)”.
Passing shoppers were handed saffron caps with Modi’s picture and made to wear them on the spot.
Fifteen vehicles, including police vans, made up Modi’s motorcade. At the vanguard were open-top jeeps, each carrying a man painted in saffron and balancing a teakettle on his head in tribute to Modi’s purported beginnings as a “chai wallah”.
Some people who said they had gathered at 4am had to wait till 8.30am for a glimpse of their man, whose SUV was stopped every 100 metres by crowds of youths.
“He represents Hindutva, and by Hindutva I don’t mean the Ram temple. I mean Modi is an individual who is not afraid to speak up for the Hindus,” a young man said.
“The other politicians have capitulated before the Muslims. In Varanasi, the Samajwadi government has ensured uninterrupted power for Muslim weavers while Hindus endure 12 to 13 hours of power cuts every day.”
But the rural pockets outside the city seemed cold to Modi. The crowd at Rohaniya, a stronghold of BJP ally Apna Dal which enjoys support among backward-caste Kurmis, seemed as uninterested in his tourism plans for Varanasi as in his attack on the poll panel.
The mood was different outside BHU, where Jaitley thundered: “Men in constitutional offices need to be bolder. Timid men can dwarf high offices. If you can’t ensure security, don’t hold the polls in the country. But if you do hold the polls, please provide a level playing field.”
In Delhi, party leaders and workers marched towards the Election Commission office before being stopped by police, who allowed a small delegation to meet the panel.
Modi tweeted: “It is unfortunate that EC is not concerned about the institution’s neutrality.”
But at the Rohaniya meeting, as a video advertised the Sabarmati’s supposed makeover in Ahmedabad, a restive audience loitered aimlessly or walked out in steady dribbles.
“They prevented me from paying homage to Ma Ganga,” Modi thundered, without inviting a single clap.
The administration had cleared Modi’s Ganga aarti but the BJP cancelled it, saying the nod had come too late.