The Telegraph
Saturday , April 26 , 2014
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Varanasi volunteers taste wisdom from a water tap
- A day in the life of Modi’s parachuted ‘professionals’

Simha records his interactions in a tea stall in Varanasi. Picture by JP Yadav

Varanasi, April 25: “Modi volunteers” who introduce themselves as “professionals” are going door to door in Varanasi to convince Benarasis why “the country needs Narendra Modi”.

Bearing an uncanny similarity with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) model that clicked in the slums of Delhi, the “Modi volunteers” are trying to peddle the “Gujarat model” in this city of pilgrimage.

The Telegraph accompanied two such “professionals” — one from Maharashtra and another from Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala that has not yet elected a single BJP MLA or MP — while they went around Varanasi.

Ratan Simha and Sudhir Damodaran, the two “volunteers”, were largely focusing on tea stalls, paan outlets and barber shops — the town-square avenues where public opinion is gauged and influenced.

Simha tried to explain the importance of water preservation to a shopkeeper who did not seem too perturbed about the tap water overflowing from a tumbler.

Paani waste mat kariye, (Don’t waste water),” Simha told the shopkeeper and closed the tap.

An onlooker could not resist a forecast, drawing upon AAP leader and Modi’s rival candidate Arvind Kejriwal’s promise of free water in Delhi. “Kejriwal paani free kar dega, jaise Dilli me kiya, (Kejriwal will give free water, like he did in Delhi),” said Manohar Das, an auto driver.

Simha would not let it pass. “Kaun bola Delhi me water free hai?” he asked the auto driver.

“Kejriwal!” exclaimed Manohar. “I heard him say so in Beniabagh (a commercial centre in Varanasi).”

Jhoot hai. Aap Delhi gaye hain? (It’s a lie. Have you been to Delhi?),” Simha asked, trying to force the rickshawpuller on the back foot. “Kejriwal ne bola aur aapne maan liya? Main Delhi me rahta hoon. Wahan basti me log paani kharidte hain. Jaa ke dekho kya haal hai (Kejriwal said and you believed him? I live in Delhi. In the slums, people buy water. Go and see what the condition in Delhi is),” Simha said with authority. (The free-water scheme announced by the short-lived Kejriwal government in Delhi had lapsed on March 31.)

But the Benarasi auto driver was not an easy nut to crack.

BJP yahan itna saal se hai… kya kiya? Ghum ke dekhiye Benaras ka kya haal hai (The BJP has won from Varanasi for years, what has it done? Go around and see),” Manohar retorted and left before Simha could convince him how Modi had developed Gujarat.

Not to be disheartened, Simha and his colleague proceeded to the next stop — a teashop.

Here, they ran into a bunch of “Modi fans” but it did not mean that Simha and Damodaran — who is not that fluent in Hindi and was mostly recording the conversations — had an easier task at hand.

A youngster in the group beat Simha to the draw and launched into a guided tour of Varanasi’s “history” based on his own research.

“You don’t have to convince us. We are going to vote for Modi. First, listen to me about the importance of Kashi. It is my own research,” Sudip Gupta told the two “Modi volunteers”. The young Gupta, who said he ran a business, held forth on how Lord Shiva, on a prayer from Lord Vishnu, descended to plan the city of Varanasi.

Simha had little option but to let Gupta have his say.

Such an intensive — and interactive — campaign is said to have contributed significantly to the AAP surge in Delhi in the Assembly elections last year. Professionals from different fields had taken leave and even quit their jobs to work for the AAP in Delhi.

The AAP has pressed them into service in large numbers in Varanasi, too. Some 200 AAP volunteers have fanned out in each of the five Assembly constituencies under the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat.

Like Delhi, where the slums were targeted, the poorer sections — auto drivers, rickshaw-pullers, day labourers —are on the AAP radar. Perhaps, Manohar, the auto driver Simha could not turn around, had been worked on by the AAP volunteers.

“We are not disheartened by such replies. We are approaching everybody irrespective of caste, religion or political affiliations. Their grievances are very essential for planning our strategy,” said Damodaran.

He claimed that the feedback collected from the ground by volunteers like him ultimately reached the top and it was reflected in Modi’s speeches.

Simha hails from Maharashtra. He claimed he was an IT engineer who had left his job to provide selfless service to Modi. “I am spending my own money,” he said.

Asked whether he was a BJP worker, he replied: “No, I am a Narendra Modi volunteer.”

Damodaran said he was from Thrissur in Kerala and ran a tour and travel business. “For the past two months, I have left my business to my staff and I am going around the country to canvass for Modi,” Damodaran said.

Asked whether he was swimming against the political tide and the pluralistic character of Kerala, Damodaran said: “It’s for Modi, Modi, Modi….”

By then Gupta’s recap of Kashi history was over and it was time for Simha and Damodaran to get down to their job. They have concluded that apart from bijli, sadak, paani, the main issue in the holy city was the pollution of the Ganga.

“Only Modiji can clean the Ganga,” Simha said, explaining in detail how Modi had cleaned and rejuvenated the Sabarmati river in Gujarat.

From Gujarat, it did not take too long to cross the border. “The country needs a strong man like Narendra Modi. Look how Pakistan beheaded our soldiers and we watched helplessly. Pakistan cannot dare to engage in such acts if Modi is the Prime Minister,” Simha told the group, the size of which had grown now with a few more listeners joining in.

“Will Modiji leave Varanasi and retain Vadodara if he wins both?” asked an aged man, Visheshwar Mishra. “Nahi, nahi (no, no). He will never leave Varanasi,” Simha insisted.

If Modi breaks the word given by Simha, fair warning of the consequences soon followed. “If he does leave, then Baba Vishwanath (Lord Shiva) and the people of Kashi will not spare Modi,” Mishra said.

The two volunteers acknowledged that people were often confronting them with this fear and they were trying to convince them that it was a canard being spread by their opponents.