Religion, in many ways, is the lifeblood of Varanasi, but in the run-up to the big fight of May 12, politics seems to have emerged as the "new religion".The city, a popular tourist destination, particularly for Hindus and spirituality-seeking foreigners, now has "political tourists" filling its hotels, streets and ghats.The crowd includes political workers, media persons, and even others wanting to soak in the political colour, sound and smell. They want to get the feel of the Lok Sabha big battle between BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, AAP's Arvind Kejriwal, Congress' Ajai Rai and, to a minor extent, Kailash Chaurasiya of the Samajwadi Party.
The city, and, in several instances, even homes have been pided into camps as voters are taking sides.As this IANS correspondent traversed through the city, an auto rickshaw driver, wearing a saffron cap donned by BJP supporters, shouts at another with an AAP cap as he drives by -- "you would come to terms with reality after the polls".Krishna Mukherjee, a local BJP worker informs his uncle and brother are supporting the AAP, leading to frequent bitter exchanges in the house."You tend to have arguments, stemming from ideological differences," he said.
For many, the run-up to May 12 is a wait for normalcy to return to their lives."You cannot walk on the road, cannot even sleep in peace at home... There is one loudspeaker or the other going on every time," said Rashmi, a student of Benaras Hindu University (BHU).Rani Mishra, a housewife said she did not mind the inconvenience, but she fears a clash as a result of rising tempers amid soaring temperatures."I hope there is peace and all ends in peace. When we hear about the small confrontations between different groups, I just pray that nothing untoward happens," she said.
Meanwhile, police personnel are putting in extra hours, even doing non-stop shifts.Police official Moolchandra Prasad told IANS that all leaves have been cancelled. "We are on duty day and night, there is hardly any time to sleep," he said.However, their reward for the labour that they are putting in is free snacks at random joints and free auto rides, which they anyhow enjoy throughout the year, as IANS got to know from residents.Most of the people are happy that Varanasi is getting national and even international prominence."Everyone is talking about Varanasi... Kashi is perhaps the oldest city of India, yet we never got the attention that we deserved. With Modi deciding to fight from here, we are hogging all the limelight," said a beaming Ravi Verma, a garments shop owner, told IANS.For many, it is time for brisk business.
Rashid, an auto driver, said he is getting double of what he earns usually over the past two weeks. However, with the long jams courtesy the road shows, he is also losing more on fuel than on other days."The fares are good, more than Delhi or any other place. But, when there are bottlenecks on all the roads, we lose on fuel. During the BJP road show, I had to take a 20-km detour, and burnt more fuel than the money I made," he said.The mallahs, or the boatmen on the Ganga, are smiling all the way to the bank."We are making anything from Rs.2000 to Rs.10,000 for boat rides, especially when people come with big cameras. They are ready to pay more for a good boat," said Madho Nishad, one who trades his business at the Assi Ghat.Ramdin Chaurasiya, a pan shop owner, said there is increase in business, but he would be really happy if Varanasi gets the development it is waiting for."Whether it is Kejriwal or Modi, I hope to see my city developed, with better roads, and more employment... Other than that, nothing can change Benaras or its culture. Once the voting is done, all will be friends again and everything would be the same as earlier," he said.