Ground Reports

The Nine Narratives Of Narendra Modi's Support In Banaras: Ground Report

Sumati Mehrishi

Jun 01, 2024, 12:23 AM | Updated 12:40 AM IST

A banner in Narendra Modi's support in Varanasi (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
A banner in Narendra Modi's support in Varanasi (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
  • The Modi-Varanasi relationship is not the ordinary MP-constituency equation.
  • The appetite for riyaz in Banaras is well known. It was the art of “riyaz” that gave the Banaras gharana its identity, the gurus and masters. 

    It is uncanny that Ajay Pandey, a taxi driver, with whom this author had the first conversation in Varanasi, uses the word ‘riyaz’ in PM Narendra Modi's context. “Modi bahut riyaz kar rahe hain, bahut zyada riyaz kar rahe hain." The usage of the word riyaz would come as a surprise. But not its context to this author.

    There are several stories associated with riyaz done in Kashi - at the Ganga ghats, temples, and baithaks featuring the greatest of musicians. Each shaped and defined Varanasi's art history.    

    On being prodded, Pandey explains “Riyaz” in Narendra Modi's context. 

    “Look at how he is dedicating himself to his core strength. Look at the number of rallies and roadshows he is doing in this heat. He doesn't rest. He repeats and returns to the art. Koi unki takkar mein hai hee nahin.”  

    Performative is the nature of Narendra Modi's fight and victory and victory margin in Varanasi. 

    A vote margin of 4.79 lakh votes (in 2019) is not made of politics and politics alone. 

    Responding to Modi’s practice or riyaz in politics is the voter of Varanasi. To this author, ground reporting in Varanasi offers a prism for a close look at the voter's view of Modi. 

    In the emotion-fertile soil and sand of Varanasi, one sees the nine states of emotion emerging in the voter's acceptance of Modi in his stint as Varanasi candidate and MP. 

    Here are the nine states of Modi’s empowerment in Kashi. 


    Comes a meaningful disruption at Godowlia Chowk when Sanjay, dressed in a sweat soaked kurta and dhoti, breaks this author's quiet interaction with BJP's "Hamar Kashi Hamar Modi'' banners. Applying a red horizontal tilak on this author's forehead, he says: “Biswanath mam naath puraari, tribhuvan mahimaa vidit tumhaari. Baba ki mahima dekhiye, Modi ji ki Mahima dekhiye." 

    Sanjay disappears into the crowds at Godowlia, but the mention of these words from Goswami Tulsidas's chaupais in Ramcharitmanas stays on. 

    In Kashi, a sense of ownership of Modi is evident. The concepts of beauty, devotion, and affection are now easily associated with Modi as a devotee by the people of Kashi and pilgrims.

    Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor at the time of its inauguration
    Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor at the time of its inauguration
    Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor
    Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor
    Steps of the corridor (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Steps of the corridor (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Generations on the ghats (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Generations on the ghats (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)

    Beauty is a healer and ‘beautifying’ a healing process. A Jyotirlinga mandir deserves both. 

    Govind Acharya was born in Benaras. He runs a shop -- which itself is ancestral heritage -- in the Godowlia area. 

    At the mention of “Narendra Modi” - he whips up pictures from his mobile phone. These pictures are of Banarasi peda - a local sweet delicacy, stamped with the lotus motif. 

    Govind Acharya (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Govind Acharya (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)

    He chuckles in awe. “Modi's love for Kashi and the love of the people of Kashi for Modi - they have brilliant and unexpected expressions." 

    He adds: "This shop belongs to my father's grandfather. It was nearly three feet below from where you see it today. Imagine the state during the rainy season. Improvement in Kashi as a pilgrimage destination led by Narendra Modi is a watermark in my life." 

    Modi's efforts in rejuvenating Kashi, enhancing seasonal interactions, and attracting more pilgrims are transforming the meaning of "darshan" in Varanasi. Improved cleanliness and the preservation of Hindu architecture at the Ghats are key factors in this transformation.

    Modi's structural interventions in Kashi in the form of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor were not a mere facelift exercise. Previous political indifference to the need for cleanliness, "vyavastha", aesthetic, and 'order' around the abode of Baba Vishwanath was a denial to the celebration of the pilgrim herself. 

    Lalita Ghat's new identity for Kashiwasis bears a symbolic image of a "stoic" Modi. The newly constructed tail of steps disappearing into the Ganges at Lalita Ghat is what they describe as "jahan se Modi ji corridor mein jaate hain (from where Modi walks to the Baba Vishwanath Corridor)”. 

    It carries political exclusivity in its association with one politician. 

    Boatmen at Dashashwamedh Ghat told this author: "That one walk has changed so much in Kashi. Who would have thought that in 47 degrees thousands of pilgrims and women among them from all parts of India, would do a ghat walk through Lalita Ghat to the temple? They can all easily choose the main entrance, but they now associate this part of the Kashi ghats with Modi ji in their devotion for Baba." 


    The ability to laugh and make laugh with humour that's humid and wry like Banaras weather is a quality inherent to the Banarasis. 

    Take for instance Ajay Pande's mention of the rally of the INDI block featuring Priyanka Gandhi and Dimple Yadav. "Ve dono aayeen thheen, ab chali gayee hain. Bas itna hee hai." None offended, none flattered, none pleased. 

    The hunger for an increased vote share is not suppressing the BJP worker's urge to crack jokes in between intense brain storming. “Ashram ka naam kya rakhenge (what would you name the ashram?", asks a worker of the BJP in the midst of a very serious conversation from Sunil Bansal at BJP’s election office. 

    The reference to the "ashram" comes when Bansal jokes that those taking responsibility of achieving and maintaining the 70-85 per cent target turnout in BJP's favour will be sent to an ashram he would open after the poll if the response is lesser. 

    To the question, Bansal replies, “30 tareek tak bataa doonga (I will let you know the name of the ashram by 30 May).” Guffaws. 

    In the heart of Varanasi, barely five minutes from Baba Vishwanath Dham, sits the king of humour, Kaushal Kumar Mishra, a former employee of the All India Radio, who laces his public awareness messaging, including messages on the importance of voting, with wry humour over a microphone. 

    Mishraji, king of 'hasya' at the Pravesh Dwar (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Mishraji, king of 'hasya' at the Pravesh Dwar (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)

    A slab at a police picket serves as his desk at the Pravesh Dwar. He helps pilgrims find their kin lost in the crowds and even delivers messages on cleanliness -- in slapstick comedy. His jokes leave pilgrims chuckling and amused. 

    Mishra switches off the microphone for a moment. He tells this author: "I have seen many political parties come and go, but now the present is the age of transformation. The transformation of Kashi. Aaj vikalpheen ho kar baat ho rahi hai 400 ke paar. You think ‘400 paar’ came up just like that? Jaat paat khatam (those who encouraged casteism are done and dusted). Aaj unke hee loag bol rahe hain 'Ram'! The one who is a devotee of Ram! I am seated between the Harishchandra Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat and I have seen lives and Kashi transform."  


    Empathy is the bedrock of affection and trust. The Modi-Yogi team is associated with this emotion in Varanasi in the context of the Dom Raja. In September 2020, this author wrote on what the Dom Raja, late Jagdish Chaudhary meant to Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath. On Chaudhary's demise, the two had described him as an icon of Sanatana tradition in Varanasi. The current Dom Raja was one of the yajmaans for the Pran Pratishtha ceremony at Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi mandir. 

    Among the prominent campaign banners displayed by the Bharatiya Janata Party in Modi's own campaign as candidate is a banner mentioning the opening of a cancer hospital in Varanasi. The other prominent one is a banner showing four women - of different age groups seated together. It addresses the delivery of ration and basic amenities to women voters. 

    Rajkumar Yadav, a taxi driver tells this author: "The Cancer Hospital is a source of assurance to not only the people of the region, but folks from Bihar. Bihar ke bahut loag aate hain yahan par laabh sabko hai." 

    The HRD ministry granting the Homi Bhabha National Institute Mumbai an approval to begin an off-campus centre in Varanasi has its critics, but the steps being taken show that Modi is determined to bolster cancer research and care in the region with Kashi as its vital centre. 

    Inclusivity of the weaker sections in the welfare schemes of Modi has been one of the loudest lines in the BJP's 2024 physical interaction with the voters. 


    Temperatures touching 48 degrees is not a deterrent to the expression of political courage with which the BJP's Varanasi unit is approaching 2024. 

    "Modi ki Sena" - the "army of Narendra Modi" as a phrase might sound too dramatic to any outsider, but members of the "sangathan" see it as a natural, self-assigned description. 

    For this author, the visit to the BJP chunav karyalaya during the address of party general secretary Sunil Bansal to BJP workers was an extended lesson in BJP's organisational courage and energies. 

    With the sole aim to expand the winning margin beyond five lakh votes across the five Vidhan Sabhas -- Rohaniya, Sevapuri, Varanasi Cantt, Varanasi North, and Varanasi South - the workers of the BJP are blending technical support with organisational strength. 

    They do not take brand Narendra Modi - the candidate - for granted. Gamchhas - saffron or white - on their heads, they step out to work on the target of achieving at least 75-80 percent voting in BJP's favour on each booth. 

    BJP workers sitting next to a map of the Vidhan Sabha segments falling under the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    BJP workers sitting next to a map of the Vidhan Sabha segments falling under the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    The huddle before the booth (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    The huddle before the booth (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)

    Team BJP in Varanasi is a unique combination of campaign styles. 

    It looks at the flip side. It goes for the flip side. Here's how: One: taking into account the most difficult aspect -- pravasis. They would be tracked and contacted, and requested to travel to vote. 

    Next: even the low-performing booths will be approached with the target of 60 per cent polling in BJP's favour. 

    Next: the team does not believe in mere distribution of slips to voters at home but each slip will be taken into account with digitised initiates at the booth, shakti kendra and karyakarta level. 

    Next: Mandal level training of digitisation and slip coordination was in full swing during this author's visit to the BJP's chunav karyalaya

    Next: under the "increase vote share" agenda, labharthis, women voters, yuva voters and other voters will not be told about "Modi ji karya" - but be spoken to about the power of their vote, reaching the booth, their problems in reaching the booth and about casting the vote. 

    Talking about Modi's work would be excluded because that task has already been achieved in the padyatras and other physical aspects of the campaign and voter interaction programmes at the mandal and booth level. 

    The unit would cover and aim for the vote of "4 lakh labhartis, 9 lakh women voters and 2.5 yuva voters" and 90,000 new voters. The first time voters would be sent a special letter urging them to vote. Not only that, they would be handed a certificate for voting in the form of an "abhinandan patra" - a letter of thanks. 

    Bansal said, "They might have voted during the Vidhan Sabha poll of 2022 and the local elections, however, they will be voting for the first time in the Lok Sabha poll. Workers and volunteers from across India are empowering the booth-focussed work. In the season of defections to the BJP, the value of the "mool karyakarta" -- the one with roots originally in the Sangh Parivar -- has clasped itself around the BJP's groundwork even stronger. 

    Rajesh ji (goes by the first name), a pracharak from Lucknow said: "The mool karyakarta - the one with roots in the Sangh Parivar - including those attached to the VHP and RSS - are the strength of the BJP and they are with the sangathan."  

    Raudra, Vibhitsa, Bhayanaka 

    Temples and devotees are tested by political ugliness and neglect. Anticipation of danger is a potent political catalyst. 

    The Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath team - is associated with the healing effect against that ugliness. Yogi Adityanath's grip on law and order in Uttar Pradesh, his hard and correctively-destructive side, and Narendra Modi's stance on national security have played a healing role for the people of Varanasi. 

    Sankat Mochan Mandir and Varanasi Cantonment are two different and prominent destinations for the pilgrim coming to Varanasi. In 2006, both these important junctures were rocked by bomb blasts. The bomb at Godowlia did not explode as per this report. In 2010, another bomb blast rocked Sheetla Ghat - adjacent to the Dashashvamedh Ghat. Panic-struck pilgrims broke into a stampede as per this report. Pakistan-based and backed terror outfits took responsibility for these blasts. 

    For the voter, the "cleaning" of Varanasi is not just cosmetic, it means preserving the civilisation. 

    Thee feeling of security: pilgrims in Kashi (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Thee feeling of security: pilgrims in Kashi (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)

    Shashi Shekhar, a senior BJP leader from Varanasi said: “The mafia rule of the past is over, the mafia rule that encouraged terror activities in UP has been snuffed. There is a feeling of security among people. Logon ke mann mein tab ek sanshay rehta thha. There was a feeling of vulnerability. Now there is the feeling of security.” 


    Grand is the allure of possibilities for Kashiwasis. When PM Modi flagged the MV Ganga Vilas luxury cruise between Varanasi and Dibrugarh in 2023, heading for its destination in Assam through 27 river systems, the people of Varanasi understood that Modi was thinking of carving paths beyond mere roads and lanes of Varanasi. 

    The sweet refrain from the boatmen is: "This was all unimaginable before Modi. He doesn't rest. The next is the ropeway, which will completely change the darshan experience." MV Ganga is a fascination-factor, particularly among the boatsmen who narrate how foreigners show curiosity for the cruise and have taken some creative liberty and designed their boats to make them look like mini cruise ships. 

    A local boat proudly displays a huge "Modi ka Parivar" placard. Boatsmen hurriedly describe to this author why watching the Ganga aarti is a better option than Ghat walking in the evening heat. 

    Today, the very mention of a first public transport "ropeway" excites the locals. Neeraj Kumar, a local gushed: "Cantonment se Godowlia tak chalega yeh. Seedha wahan se yahan, upar se. Agli baar aap isee mein baith kar aana." 

    Several Kashiwasis want these elements of transformation to keep trickling in.   


    Varanasi is 24 hours away from Modi’s meditative departure to the Vivekanand Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari. Dashashwamedh and Sheetla Ghats get ready for the Ganga aarti as hundreds of devotees occupy the steps leading to the ripples.

    “Ab sab shant hai. Baba hain, Modi ji hain, Yogi Adityanath hain," a devotee outside the Sankat Mochan, rushing to catch a glimpse of Arun Govil "Ramayan serial waale Ram", said. 

    Varanasi perhaps is the only constituency where caste of the candidate or the mention of caste in the reference to voting patterns is not a topic of discussions. 

    The calm is of Sanatni unity. The “son of Kashi” as an “insider” in BJP’s localised campaign is associated with calmness that follows the dust and heat of his own work, and his own candidature. 

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