If the finishing line makes athletes run faster and feel nervous, politics during elections is no different. With the last phase of polls in Uttar Pradesh just four days away, each political outfit is pulling out all the stops to steal the show in India’s most populous state. All of Friday, the entire BJP machinery in Varanasi being led by top ministers displayed a bad case of nerves. A top minister refused attempts by a media crew to get a sound bite by saying, “Please excuse me. Varanasi may vote on March 8 but our exam is on March 4. PM Modi is coming to Varanasi. He will not just address the rally and visit some temple. He is coming to his constituency and will visit the Kashi Vishwanath and Kaal Bhairav temples. It’s a visit which will send not a signal but signals.”
Bhupinder Yadav, the BJP general secretary who has been camping here for a week till all the votes come home on March 8, added to the drama with a cryptic comment that barely gave anything away. “We are not saying that it will be a show of strength tomorrow. We are saying PM is coming for a darshan of voters of Varanasi and a darshan on Baba Vishwanath at Kashi temple,” he said.
The BJP cadres here are agog – will the PM simply drive down from the landing zone in the Lanka area to Kashi and Bhairon temple and then for the second time for a rally at Town Hall ground? Or will he do something which will send a signal?
“We don’t know what the Prime Minister plans. He is expected to travel in a cavalcade to the Kashi temple and then for rally. But will he emerge from the car – or will he turn it into a road show?” wondered one party worker.
The district administration officials who are preparing for a day-long nightmare with PM’s visit during the day say they have no request for a roadshow.
Yogeshwar Mishra, district magistrate of Varanasi, said, “The programme of the Prime Minister includes a cavalcade drive. There is no information about any kind of roadshow.”
The BJP, which has a lot at stake in the last two phases of polling, had moved its war room to Varanasi several days ago entrusting Union Ministers and senior leaders with the task of strengthening the campaign with the Prime Minister in the front.
Top BJP leaders were deputed to work out and rehearse each element of the Prime Minister’s visit. Power Minister Piyush Goyal visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple to check arrangements. The SPG or Special Protection Group and local police carried out a detailed drill. All the vehicles which will be part of the PM’s cavalcade went over the route. At the temples, the parking formation as per guidelines was also carried out. Every building along the PM’s route will get rooftop security men. And public buildings would be sanitised.
At the Town Hall ground, the District Magistrate and Senior Superintendent of Police checked the outer periphery, the barricading the adjoining buildings.
The officials have a tough task ahead. On one hand they have to ensure security for the PM who is coming for election campaigning plus two other political events. The face of the newly-forged Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, will stage a nearly 10 km-long road show in Varanasi from the Kutchehry area. While Akhilesh Yadav, the Chief Minister, is protected by the National Security Guards, Rahul Gandhi is an SPG-protected leader with a high threat perception.
To match the BJP’s effort, the SP-Congress combine has also shifted its focus to Varanasi. Congress campaign strategist Prashant Kishor and his team members are busy crafting Varanasi area-specific strategy. Videos titled ‘Dead-e-Banaras’ have been posted on the social media sites and Congress leaders say within a few days, the posts have recorded thousands of hits.
Political tension between various outfits is at its peak in the city over these two events as the Akhilesh-Rahul road show is expected to start after the Prime Minister has left Varanasi for a rally in adjoining Janupur and end before the PM returns for a rally in the Town Hall area. The administration has been constantly in touch with the SP-Congress and BJP leaders to ensure that channels created for movement of supporters are strictly adhered to.
The third big event of the day is a public meeting by BSP chief Mayawati in the Rohania area which, to the relief of the local administration, falls outside city limits. But Mayawati’s party is known for limited rallies with high turnout. BSP leaders like Nasimuddin Siddiqui have been camping in Varanasi for the last five days to ensure a mega show. The worry for the administration is how to channel the BSP supporters who take trains to reach Varanasi and will be heading from the station to the rally site.
The District Senior Superintendent of Police Nitin Tiwari told NDTV, “We have to ensure that all events don’t overlap or there is no interface between their supporters. We are creating traffic diversions, vehicles for the events are being given specific routes and parking.”
Varanasi city has five assembly seats. Last time, the BJP and its current ally Apna Dal had won four while the Samajwadi Party had clinched one. The Saturday push by political parties is aimed at not just the 49 constituencies which will vote on March 8 but from the ancient city set by the Ganges, the parties also plan to send out s signal to voters of Phase 6 who would be reaching polling booths on the same day.