After the Gujarat election concluded on April 23, where I had the privilege to campaign in Junagadh district and partly in Karnavati (Amdavad), my calling was for Uttar Pradesh.
I reached Varanasi almost at midnight on the 29th, flying to Lucknow early in the morning and then taking a train to Varanasi which took 10.5 hours instead of scheduled eight hours. Why I had to go though Lucknow is another story.
i had very warm welcome and assistance in Lucknow from Nishant Mishra, a young volunteer of Ekal Vidyalaya. He accompanied me from the airport to the railway stationed and stayed with me till I boarded the train (Ganga-Sutlej Express).
Lucknow Railway Station⬇️⬇️⬇️
With Nishant Mishra at Lucknow railway station
My ticket was purchased at a very short notice by another Ekal Vidyalaya adhikari- Ramchandra Ji. Such is the power of bonding of selfless organizations that draw inspiration from Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sanmgh (RSS.)
NEXT: First Day of Campaigning in Varanasi
Campaigning in villages near Varanasi: May 2, 6 to 9
(for photos, see Facebook page of <vicharak1>.
We spent several days going door-to-door and also addressing groups of villagers in several villages in Varanasi Loksabha constituency. There were several teams covering different villages. Girishbhai Gandhi (Florida) and I were paired together and we would have a local volunteer from the area to be visited accompany us everyday. We had worked out with a car rental company so every morning a car would be available though the driver would be different. As decided from the beginning we did not solicit any funds from the party. Ours was an independent effort augmenting BJP’s campaign and was supported by our own funds.
Some of the villages that we visited were: Chakia Karadia, Munohua (Sikarganj), Sulvesa, Machhilshahr, Ayodhyapur, Loharapur, Bodalpur, Bakhariya, Kakarahiya, Korauti,, Kotawa, Sirasa, Rohaniya, Kabirpur, etc. Most places, response was very positive. I got the impression that people were so tired of misgovernance, lack of infrastructure and lack of opportunities that they wanted to give a chance to Narendra Modi whose agenda of development was music to their ears. Perhaps, first time, these folks were looking beyond caste labels. No matter which village we visited, their complaint was the same- that no elected leader came back to listen to their problems, that the village head was corrupt, that neither had they enough drinking water, nor had they water for farming, electricity was sporadic, no one cared how poor people lived, etc. We repeatedly explained to them need to unite as a community and elect better representatives. We also took notes so that we could present a brief report to Narendrabhai
In one village we came across a strong AAP supporter. This was a Kurmi Patel. Many of these Patels are supporting BJP. He had choice words for system failure and had reasons to support AAP, whom he thought had solutions to his problems. We had a lively discussion but we had to keep it to the level where he could understand what a vote to AAP would mean.
In our visit to Bakhariya, Kakarahiya, Korauti,, Kotawa, Sirasa, and Rohaniya villages, we were accompanied by two women teachers- Puja Singh and Meena Singh. They were M.A,, B.Eds and quite progressive though in their own home and village they had to be in ghunghat (veil.) We came to know more about the village life, plight of the girls, poor standard of education, etc. from them. They had voted for SP in the last election and were now ruing their decision. Now they were part of BJP’s Women’s wing.
We also had interaction with pro-BJP Muslims in the village of Kotawa. This village had seen an inter-Muslim disturbance the day before we visited it. It so happened that some Muslim office bearers of BJP from other states had come to campaign in this town. There was a deputy minister for minority affairs from Chhattisgarh, Salim Ansari. Then there was Ashfaq Patel, president of BJP Minority Cell, Nagpur. His wife, Jaitunbi Ansari is Deputy Mayor of Nagpur Municipality. While they were distributing the leaflets, they were attacked by local Muslims; reason given was that the leaflets were printed in the holy language, Urdu and when these leaflets were strewn around in the street, it was an insult to the Urdu. However, real reason was the fact that there were Muslims who were favoring BJP. Police had to intervene and next day there was a flag march to ward off any potential trouble. We met with the visiting delegation and pro-BJP supporters from the town. Fortunately, by this time a truce had been reached but media was there to interview people to provide fodder to their communal mill. It was an interesting experience to sit down with the Muslims and listen to them. It was also good to see that some educated Muslims have started to come out of the ghetto mentality.
At Kabirpur village the audience consisted of about 20 women; they were not farmers. They complained bitterly about not having water for their children. Village had only one hand pump which was installed near village head’s home. Though it was meant for use by all, village head’s family was giving hard time to the people who came to use it.
These villagers had to go a mile to a well to fetch water. These women were so agitated that there was a cacophony of voices, all of them speaking at the same time; on top of that Hindi in Varanasi area is a mix of Hindi and Bhojpuri and more so in villages, so half of what they were saying was going over our heads. We found it difficult to pacify them. One woman was asking for help with her young widowed daughter in law who seemed to be in her early twenties. I really felt depressed after this visit, which marked the end of our campaign in Varanasi.
All in all, this has been an awesome experience and I learned a lot. I had come face to face with poor and forgotten Bharat. Since Bharat consists of 70% villages, I can see that the challenges are enormous. I hope Modiji will get support form all quarters to better the lives of these people and give them hope for their future.
I must add that we had generous support from some great souls. Dr. Naresh C. Gupta, a successful businessman, whom we in VHP of America (VHPA) have known for decades through his involvement in Ekal Vidyalaya program, had taken upon himself to pay for our guesthouse stay. There were six rooms booked for an average of seven days with each one costing about Rs. 900 per day. He also invited us for dinner more than once. Dr. Bhupendra Kumar Modi, head of Modi conglomerate treated all NRis to a lavish dinner at a four star hotel. Separately, Mrs. Veena Modi invited us for a dinner at Taj hotel. We have known Modis from late 90’s when they were involved with VHPA’s Dharma Prasar Yaatra and United Nation’s Millennium Peace Summit in 2000. Mrs. Modi presented all NRIs with a box of Banaras’s famous sweets.Wherever we went, we were warmly received. Villagers always offered something to eat. They were overwhelmed that some one from as far as America had come to listen to them. In turn we felt deeply connected to them.
I hope for an improved future for these villagers, where they would have all the basic necessities of life such as roads, water, electricity, healthcare and education and enough opportunities to make a decent living. May this election be a game changer in that sense.
On the last day, we took time out to visit Kashi Vishwanath Mandir and take dip in Gangamaiya at Assi ghat. I will write about it some time in future.
We returned to Amdavad on 11th and as I wrote all these reports (now that I have easy access to the Internet and Wi Fi), I have relived the wonderful experience.
May 8, 2014 Dharana and Modiji at BJP election office in Varanasi
This was a memorable day. The day before District Magistrate (DM) had refused to give permission for Narendra Modi’s public meeting in Beniyabag, Varanasi, citing security concern (it is a different matter that two days later, same administration allowed Rahul Gandhi’s road show, though he has higher level of security!) Not one to take it lying down and known for turning every adversity in to an opportunity (starting with Maut Ka Sodagar epitaph in 2007 Gujarat election), Narendrabhai canceled all other programs (Ganga Aarati and a meet with intellectuals) except one rally in Rohaniya. This itself became a rallying point for Modi aficionados, who number in hundreds of thousands here in Varanasi. Modiji converted this into an opportunity to have an unannounced, unofficial roadshow- more about it later.
Also it was announced that Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and other leaders would sit on a Dharana in Lanka, a famous area in front of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) on 8th morning. Our team under leadership of Ramesh Shah (Houston) decided to halt campaigning and join Dharana to protest prejudiced and politically motivated decision of the EC. Our first stop was a busy road where we distributed NaMo for PM caps to people passing by. Then we proceeded to BHU campus. This is a huge campus with a big public hospital. Pandit Madanmohan Malaviyaji’s statue graces the gates of the campus. We reached there just before 10:00 AM. BJP leaders were expected at 11:00. There was a big crowd chanting slogans against the election commission and the DM. Trucks with satellite dishes were parked on both sides of the road. All major channels- Aaj Tak, India Times, NDTV, ETV, TV9, etc. were present as were a number of smaller and local channels. Umpteen reporters holding microphone in had with cameraman in tow were working the crowd to get sound bytes. Burkha Dutt, Rahul Kanwal and Anurag Kashyap were moving around. I saw and heard Anurag Kashyap spewing his anti-BJP, anti-Modi venom as his cameraman was recording him. He looked like an angry, frustrated man. A vein on his neck was literally throbbing and I though the guy was going to have a coronary. I had vicarious pleasure knowing that these scoundrels’ days were numbered now. Within an hour crowd was of unmanageable proportion. Police had not stopped or diverted traffic because Dharana is a public right and does not require police permission. Since no permission is sought, there is no legal need to stop the traffic. Hapless people on two wheelers and in cars were struggling to pass through human sea. Air was charged with Modi, Modi chants. Some local leaders were already sitting in the middle of the road for Dharana. Heat was so intense that it felt someone had put hot wires around our bodies. We were constantly downing cold water bottles but that gave only temporary respite. W waited till 12:30 Pm but Jaitleyji and company had not arrived yet. We decided that we were better off going to BJP election office and help with office work there. This we spent two and a half hour in the frenzied environment.
We had come to know that Modiji was going to come to the election office to do Ganga Pujan straight from his meeting at Rohaniya. I went to a cybercafé to get some work done as there was no Internet/Wi-Fi at the guesthouse where we had stayed (across from BJP election office in Rathyatra in Sigra area.) When I reached the BJP office gates at 5:30 PM, it was a virtual fortress, surrounded by CRP, RAF, police, etc. No one without an approved pass was allowed inside. They had issued passes to local workers, which was quite understandable. Inside also there were people in the compound who were not allowed to go inside the building. There were people in the building on upper floors who were not allowed to come down. Our friend, Ramesh Shah, who was helping with the office work was inside but rest of us were outside. I attempted to reason with the senior volunteer outside and after some persuasion, he allowed me to go inside the compound making it clear that I would not be able to go further, which was OK by me. With me was Meena Shah, a volunteer from Houston and Dr. Anjila Gupta, a professor from Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi who had taken one month off to work on campaign in Varanasi. All three of us joined 60 or so people in the large compound. It was a hot day and all we had was water at normal temperature. We kept standing, sometimes finding a stoop to sit on. Modiji was expected around 6:00 PM. But wait was without an end. I did feel drawn out because morning Dharana and now standing on feet in the depressing heat had taken its toll but there was no question of backing out now. There were people in balconies of the building. The office is on the ground floor and this brand new building has 10 floors. We saw Laxmikant Bajpayee, president of BJP-UP, sitting outside. We also saw former CM, Kalyan Singh’s son and many other dignitaries. Modiji had arrived in Lanka (BHU) from Rohaniya by helicopter and from there he was coming in an SUV. He couldn’t stand in the vehicle as it would be against election law (that would be considered an official road show and would need permission, so he was greeting people on the side of the roads with folded hands. Crowd was so intense on his route that it took him five hours to cover a distant of 4 KM (2.5 miles)! Finally his car entered the gates at 9:30 PM. I had waited exactly four hours to have a glimpse of him.
As soon as he alighted from the flower bedecked SUV, security threw a cordon around him yet the crowed jostled to be near him. People almost broke the cordon and Modiji had hard time to walk barely 50 steps to heavily guarded front doors. I snapped some photos with iPad but it was impossible to get a clear shot. All you could hear was Modi, Modi, Modi and nothing else. He was hardly inside for 10 minutes where he performed Puja of Gangaji water that was specially brought there; Pandit Chhannuram, who had accompanied when he filed his nomination officiated for the Puja. Anjilabahen asked me if she could get one of the flower “malas” from Modiji’s vehicle. I was not too sure but asked one of the commandos. He OK’ed it so I picked up one mala from the bonnet of SUV and gave it to Anjinibahen, keeping one flower for myself. Such is the craze and Bhakti for Modiji, cutting against all barriers of age, position, social status, etc.
Very soon Modiji came out; this time the security was better prepared and whisked him into his car and sped off in no time. Within moments it was all over.
Modiji turned the rejection by the DM into an opportunity to attract more people than what a public meeting would have achieved. No wonder, all dirty tricks of Congress have failed.
This was an exciting, thrilling and exhausting day for all of us.
New Delhi, July 13 : A chronology of recent terror attacks in India:
IANSJuly 13, 2011: At least 21 people are killed and more than 140 injured in three bomb blasts in Mumbai.
Dec 7, 2010: A bomb explodes on the banks of Ganga in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh during evening prayers, killing a a girl and injuring 20 people, including some foreigners.
Oct 14, 2010: At least five people injured in a minor bomb explosion in Kanpur city of Uttar Pradesh.
Feb 13, 2010: A blast in German Bakery in Pune city of Maharashtra kills nine people and injures 45.
April 6, 2009: A car bomb blast in Guwahati kills six people and injures 32.
Nov 26-29, 2008: Terror attack in Mumbai kills 166 Indians and foreigners.
October 30, 2008: Terror attack in Guwahati kills 61 and injures 300.
Sep 29, 2008: Blast in Malegaon in Maharashtra kills eight people and injures 80.
Sep 13, 2008: Serial blasts in Delhi kill 30 people and injure more than 100.
July 26, 2008: Serial blasts in Ahmedabad kill 40 people and injure more than 50.
July 25, 2008: Nine explosions in Bangalore kill one and injuring 12.
May 13, 2008: Eight serial blasts rock Jaipur in a span of 12 minutes leaving 65 dead and over 150 injured.
Oct 11, 2007: Bomb blast inside Ajmer Sharif shrine during Ramadan kills three and injures 28.
Aug 25, 2007: 32 dead, 60 hurt in Hyderabad terror blast.
May 18, 2007: A bomb at Mecca mosque in Hyderabad kills 14 people.
Feb 19, 2007: Two bombs explode aboard a train from India to Pakistan, charring at least 66 passengers, most of them Pakistanis, to death.
Sep 8, 2006: 30 dead and 100 hurt in twin blasts at a mosque in Malegaon in Maharashtra.
July 11, 2006: Seven bombs explode on Mumbai’s trains killing over 200 and injuring more than 200.
(Note: I have updated the figures of the dead and injured in yesterday’s Mumbai blasts from waht appeared in this article.- Gaurang G. Vaishnav)