Varanasi: Unlike many other Lok Sabha constituencies where the basic amenities top the poll agenda, this temple town seems to have become an electoral prestige battleground, putting on back-burner the numerous civic issues plaguing it.
A high-profile election with BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in the fray has resulted in unprecedented traffic on half-concrete and half-earthen roads in most parts of the city, as leaders and volunteers from across the country are coming in large numbers not just from BJP, but also from other parties.
While thousands of volunteers for Modi have already come in for the May 12 polls, Aam Aadmi Party is not far behind. Besides, parties like SP and BSP have also mobilised their cadre from adjoining areas.
However, leaders, irrespective of their parties, are hardly talking about local issues. While BJP has made it a prestige poll seat with Modi in fray from this holy city of temples, having a significant Muslim population, almost all other parties seem to be fighting this polls to defeat Modi.
BJP for its part clearly said that these elections are being fought on national issues and against the 10-year misrule of Congress-led UPA government at the Centre.
People are also wary of Modi. If elected, he might leave Varanasi and retain Vadodara seat in Gujarat, which would mean additional expenses and poll-time problems for this city. Neither BJP nor Modi has said anything so far about which seat would be retained if the Gujarat Chief Minister wins both.
BJP leader Nalin Kohli, who is camping here for polls, said, “These elections are being fought on 10-year misrule of the Congress-led UPA government and the issues of price rise, corruption, unemployment, economic decline, women’s security and farmers’ plight.
“Modi and BJP are constantly talking about development and the agenda of development. Our manifesto clearly says that our aim is ‘ek Bharat shreshtha Bharat’ and our manifesto, as Modi himself says, is not a document but an agenda for
AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal has said that his single motto here is to defeat Modi and his loss at Varanasi would ensure that he does not become Prime Minister. He, however, has promised that he would work for the people of this city and resolve their problems, while dismissing his “bhagoda” image.
SP and BSP leaders also said that Modi and BJP were doing “politics of hate” and they must be defeated here.
A senior SP leader said they were projecting development work done by their state government to woo voters in other parts of Uttar Pradesh, but admitted that the anti-Modi agenda was on top.
Congress candidate Ajay Rai is also banking on his rivals being outsiders more than on his own “local” image. He, however, said that he was talking to people about local issues and was assuring them about working towards making Varanasi a clean and world-class city.
To name a few, roads are in a bad shape although some work was done in last couple of months, but that has made the situation worse as half-finished work in most parts has led to bigger traffic snarls. The sewer problem is severe, while law and order situation is also not very good.
Although some committed work by district administration has managed to remove encroachments from roads, the officials have now got busy with the polls and a high-profile election like this means greater focus on their part.
The greater worry for them remains that a possible re-poll in the event of Modi winning and deciding to leave this constituency would further delay the development works that have been initiated but are on hold, said a senior officer in the district administration.
The political parties and leaders, however, remain mostly unfazed and say that these elections are much more important than local issues and would decide the next course of action for the entire country and eventually the future development of Varanasi.
Kejriwal, however, has dismissed as bogus the talk about Varanasi becoming a star constituency if it elects the next prime minister of the country.
He said that none of the constituencies represented by former prime ministers have seen any extraordinary development, including Phulpur, represented by the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
BJP’s Kohli, on the other hand, said that the party’s manifesto clearly states that “our politics is a hope for a better India”.
“Congress has an agenda of failure and fear. They have failed in 10 years and they are creating an atmosphere of fear. On the other hand, Aam Aadmi Party has an agenda of anarchy and accusations,” he said.
Another poll issue that has overtaken local issues is that of polarisation of votes on religious or caste lines.
While BJP is being accused of polarising Hindu votes, other parties are trying to consolidate minority votes and the backward castes in their favour.
Kohli said, “Our agenda is one India, great India and we want to work for addressing problems that affect each and every Indian, irrespective of his or her region, caste and religion.
“It’s unfortunate that in the 21st century, there are still parties like SP, BSP and Qaumi Ekta Dal and some individual leaders who are treating voters of India with a herd mentality.”