Meanwhile, in Varanasi
avoided in an election. Its choice of candidates has been abysmal. Its insensitive handling has upset loyal RSS and party footsoldiers while alienating traditional support groups.
Above all, there is a niggling feeling of betrayal as the city, whose MP is the Prime Minister of 2017 India, grapples with potholed roads, chaotic traffic, collapsing sewerage and mountains of garbage. As I dodged meandering cows, rickety cyclerickshaws and impatient scooterists to cross a virtually nonexistent road without being run over, I wonder what happened to the promise of twinning Varanasi and Japan’s ancient city of Kyoto.
Plans and announcements abound. But for the essential Benarasi steeped in the spiritual and cultural heritage of a city embraced by Shiva in all three forms — terrestrial (the old city is built on three rocks that supposedly represent the prongs of Shiva’s trident), aquatic (the Ganga that flows past the ancient ghats) and celestial — these smack of the philistine approach of outsiders who spend too little time here to understand, absorb and appreciate the richness of the Varanasi palette.
Like the decision to appoint Union minister Mahesh Sharma to oversee the regeneration of Varanasi. Sharma is a Vashisht Brahmin from western UP with sensibilities as different from those of the Saryuparin Brahmins who dominate Varanasi as chalk is from cheese. He had LED lights installed at the ghats that turned their warmglitter into a ghostly white glow.
After protests from residents, the LED bulbs were covered with yellow paper, but the ghats have lost their old lustre. Now, residents are fighting another plan to paint the ghats pink to give them a uniform look. Paint, according to them, will suffocate the sandstone and cause cracks, apart from destroying the unique look of each of the 87 ghats.
BJP supporters whisper of an undercurrent of restlessness and anger. Probing deeper, elements of the mood in Delhi during the 2015 state polls are visible. There’s indignation over the denial of a ticket to seven-term sitting MLA from Varanasi South, Shyamdeo Roy Chaudhary, popularly known as ‘Dada’.
He’s become the Harsh Vardhan of Varanasi. Like Vardhan, who was forced to give up his Krishna Nagar seat in Delhi for Kiran Bedi, Dada was eased out to make way for a political greenhorn and nominee of the new high command headed by Amit Shah, Neelkanth Tiwari.
Dada has accepted his fate gracefully, much like Vardhan did. But sullen resentment is palpable among the rank and file. They see his marginalisation as a message to the cadre that there’s no room for the old guard in the Modi-Shah regime.
Dada is not the only weak link in the BJP’s campaign to win Varanasi. Traders, who form a key support group, are up in arms. Demonetisation has hit them badly with all traditional mandis — from the sari and jewellery bazaars to the grain, cement and steel markets — reporting heavy losses over the last few months.
They feel doubly cheated after 30,000odd traders received income-tax notices regarding their bank deposits since November 8. A leading trader who has never strayed from the saffron fold maintains that rage has mounted into a consensus that the BJP must be punished for turning on its core constituency in such a savage manner.
It boggles the mind that Varanasi can remain untouched if indeed there is a wave favouring the BJP, as its cheerleaders claim. But nothing is over till the EVMs are sealed and delivered. Polling here is in the last phase on March 8. “So, Modi still has time to work his magic and turn the tide.” That was a loyal voter’s parting shot. The idea that some assets are extraordinary — of critical importance to a company — must be at the heart of an effective strategy to protect against cyber threats. Because in an increasingly digitised world, protecting everything equally is not an option.
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Khaike polls Banaraswala