Modi kicks off election campaign in Varanasi, calls voters his 'maalik'
Lucknow: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday called the people of Varanasi his " maalik" (master) and "high-command", virtually kicking off his campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from his parliamentary constituency.
"Besides making me Prime Minister, you have also assigned me the job of an MP. This is why I am giving you a small glimpse of the work that I have done in the last four years," Modi said, listing the development projects taken up in the constituency.
"You are my master; you are my high command. So I am giving you the report of every penny that I have spent on Varanasi," he added.
Parliamentary elections are due in the summer of 2019.
At campaign meetings for the 2014 elections, Modi would describe himself as the country's " chowkidar" (watchman) and a "sewak" (servant) of the people and claim that "Mother Ganga" had called him to Varanasi.
On Tuesday, he focused exclusively on Varanasi in his 40-minute speech as he addressed students and local BJP supporters at the amphitheatre of Banaras Hindu University, a day after celebrating his 68th birthday with pupils of two city schools.
Saurabh Singh, a social worker from Varanasi, said Modi didn't touch on any of the contentious issues gripping the country now but concentrated entirely on development works in his constituency. "It was clearly an election speech," Singh added.
The Prime Minister mentioned some of the completed projects, such as a display centre for weavers and carpenters, power substations and the renovation of the Cantonment Railway Station.
He also mentioned an under-construction ring road that would ease the pressure of heavy vehicles on the city, several link roads that would connect Varanasi with other districts and the adjoining state of Bihar, some flyovers and underground cabling of electrical wires. "You keep blessing me like this and I will keep working to make a new Kashi (the ancient name of Varanasi) and new Bharat," he said.
Modi began his speech in Bhojpuri, the main dialect spoken in east Uttar Pradesh, saying he was a son of Varanasi, before switching to Hindi after two sentences.
He said he was starting a new year in his life "for the country" with the "blessings of Baba Vishwanath" (Lord Shiva) and "mother Ganga", in what appeared to be an attempt to placate a section of sadhus in Varanasi.
The sadhus have accused the government of trying to destroy the essence of the temple town by demolishing buildings around the Kashi Vishwanath temple to develop a road circuit for religious tourism.
"We are preserving the tradition and protecting the mythical importance of Kashi while bringing modernity in the form of development," Modi said.
On Monday night, Modi had offered Shodashopchar puja at the Kashi Vishwanath temple, a ritual done to invoke the deity and bring him closer to the devotee.
The Prime Minister asked his audience four times whether they had seen any change in the city in the last four years. The crowd remained silent before eventually nodding in affirmation and moving their hands when Modi repeated his query for the second and third time.
Modi accused previous governments of "leaving Kashi at the mercy of Bhole" (Shiva) - Kashi, according to mythology, is situated on Shiva's trident - and claimed that development was fast-tracked only after the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government took over in Uttar Pradesh last year.
"I want to develop Kashi as a gateway of east India," Modi said, adding that he had started a light-and-sound show in Sarnath to attract tourists.
Congress leader Ajay Rai said the light-and-sound show on the life of Gautama Buddha, a project of the state's tourism department that the Samajwadi government under Mulayam Singh Yadav had conceived in 2003, was yet to be started.
The BJP's rivals also say that potholes were still a common feature across the Prime Minister's constituency, while the banks of the Ganga and its water were as dirty as before.