|BJP supporters gather outside the party office in Varanasi after an EC raid on Sunday. (Sanjay Gupta)
The BJP’s oldest office in the city looks desolate. Nobody drops by at the ramshackle three-storey building off Sigra except local apparatchiks like Sudhir Mishra.
But Mishra’s status as city BJP general secretary hardly carries weight in the new dispensation set up by Varanasi candidate Narendra Modi.
Party operations have moved to two new venues: a spanking new 14-storey apartment complex, Swastik Sevashram, on the Rath Yatra Crossing and a “war room” at the Surya Hotel in upscale Cantonment district, insulated against the grime and the noise of the old quarters.
The apartment complex is ready but nobody except for the BJP has yet taken possession of any of the four-bedroom flats. The party has occupied the first floor, consisting of big halls and some of the flats. The buzz is that if Modi decides to retain the Varanasi seat instead of Vadodara — assuming he wins both — he might take up one of these apartments.
Modi visited the BJP office here the night his motorcade rolled through some of the streets in a show of part protest and part strength after the Election Commission denied him permission for a rally in a minority neighbourhood.
Ashok Dhawan, a silk sari businessman, is Modi’s election agent. An old BJP hand, Dhawan helmed the Varanasi unit for a year from 1994 to 1995 and went on to become the party’s Uttar Pradesh treasurer.
Dhawan heads an 80-member team that micro-managed Modi’s working, from pencilling in local campaign schedules to receiving outstation visitors, organising their board and lodgings and assigning them duties, if needed.
Not that they need asking. Varanasi has largely been taken over by members of Modi’s Gujarat apparatus, including his old associates such as Vijay Rupani, I.K. Jadeja, Purshottam Rupala, Parindu Bhagat and Bharat Pandya.
Some of them said they felt a bit out of sync with “Uttar Pradesh’s un-professionalism” and the local people’s cavalier attitude towards punctuality and the business of making and keeping promises.
Modi’s Gujarat colleagues have been turning their noses up at the paan spittle that covers swathes of the office space and the unkempt ghats, although they admit to enjoying the ambience there.
One of them said Modi had prioritised the ghats’ revamp and the cleaning of the Ganga on his agenda.
At Surya Hotel, dwarfed by the posh hotels that have come up in parts of the Cantonment area, Modi’s worker bees have been slogging 24x7. They are a motley mix: a couple of journalists, IT whiz kids, pro-Modi twitterati, BJP-friendly NRIs and Varanasi academics.
Keeping them occasional company are Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Amit Shah.
L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj are the only biggies who did not drop by at Varanasi. Were they missed? Nobody would utter a word.
But Modi’s working style in Varanasi has sent one message clearly to the BJP: he is his own man and has little time for the traditional paraphernalia of party politics and entrenched but rusted hierarchies.