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BJP’s Campaign of Intimidation – A Report from Banaras: Monobina Gupta

May 9, 2014

Guest post by MONOBINA GUPTA

The narrow streets of Goduliya Chowk were bursting at the seams yesterday. It was the time of the famous Varanasi aarti at the ghats of the Ganga, a time when the crowd multiplies by several hundreds of people. Narendra Modi was preparing to head out on his triumphant road show through this area, choc-a-bloc full. The BJP’s activists were in a frenzied trance – waving saffron flags, flaunting Modi caps (a tawdry imitation of the original AAP trademark), dancing and chanting: Modi, Modi. As a person with no love lost for Modi, I responded to the exultant mood with some apprehension. My thoughts were straying to the nukkad sabha of the AAP that I attended last evening when a group of 20 young and old AAP volunteers had gone around campaigning for Medha Patkar’s meeting. I found myself thinking about the evening a couple of days ago when I stood with Anand Patwardhan and some activists who were distributing leaflets right there at Goduliya Chowk, and a group of BJP men came surrounded us. I thought about another night spent at Kabir Math Chowk after watching the Dastangoi performance – when a group of young men from Bangalore and Maharashtra were confronted by BJP supporters. I was worried about their safety standing amidst a crowd which appeared dangerous in its swaggering triumph. Yesterday, with Modi’s cavalcade approaching, frictions were reaching fever pitch – encounters one could not possibly see on the images on TV at home.

Standing there amidst the crowd, I spotted an elderly Sikh gentleman walking through the throng of people wearing his AAP topi. Suddenly a roar went up, as Modi sympathisers lunged after him shouting ‘pagal, pagal’ (mad/mad). A little distance ahead I saw another man wearing the AAP cap. The crowd spotted him too, and ran after them both, gesticulating, heckling. As I start walking quickly towards the men I saw them, seemingly unperturbed, walk right through the charging hoard, not a sign of nervousness about their gait. They were walking the confident walk of men who know no fear.

Half an hour later, some young BJP supporters standing on the raised platform dividing the street, turned and collectively pointed at a man and a woman walking past, also wearing AAP caps. Again the crowd roared at them: Modi, Modi. Once again I saw no fear, no rush to escape the hostility on the part of the targets. A vegetable vendor wearing AAP topi going through the crowds was sneered at. A scooterist was shouted at.

Two days ago, it was at this very spot that I walked into a shop where a young bearded Muslim salesman across the counter told me: “There is no one but Kejriwal for us. They are trying to create confusion. But it is Kejriwal and Kejriwal alone.” To corroborate his support he dug into his pocket and fished out his precious AAP topi. “I can’t wear it in the shop because customers don’t like it. But I keep it with me all the time. Here it is. The moment I step out of the shop, I put it on.”

In the charged atmosphere leading up to voting – and then counting – day, the AAP topi has become a symbol of resistance, of recalcitrance in the face of thuggish “activists” who want to cleanse Varanasi of anything that doesn’t resemble a lotus. The macro images of thousands of people on the street misses these smaller stories of people who look assailants in the face and refuse to be intimidated. Goduliya Chowk is a political space, open to one and all – a fact BJP workers refuse to see when they terrorise individuals for wearing a cap. While many brave people face the music head on, for others, like the shopkeeper who hides his topi during the day, the cap becomes a talisman.

During the commotion, as Modi emerged in public view, a man standing next to me indignantly said: “How dare Kejriwal come here?” I asked him: “Is Varanasi is anybody’s jagir?” He said: “No, but why are they here?”

I know why they are here. And I’m glad they are.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. aretaes permalink
    May 9, 2014 12:38 PM

    Yeah I think these stories are becoming a little hard to believe now. I don’t see this sort of frenzied violent behavior by BJP or other party workers in any other part of the country, why should they suddenly start lunging after elderly sikh gentlemen and women for wearing an AAP cap? Is there something in Varanasi which rendered them even more rabid than fifteen years of Hindutva in gujarat? Modi hasnt been to Varanasi all that much.

    • Aditya Nigam permalink*
      May 9, 2014 2:08 PM

      One has to be daft not to be able to see that when the C-in-C is being challenged, desperation grows – as it indeed is. You perhaps also do not know – or willfully overlook – the fact that the campaign in Banaras is entrusted to the VHP. And you really want evidence of where all and how these thugs intimidate people – even ordinary lovers in parks? You perhaps also do not remember that just over a month ago right in Delhi University they (BJP?ABVP) students went a blackened the face of one professor for saying some uncomplimentary things about Modi. And this prof was actually one of their own. Intolerance has always been their hallmark.

    • May 9, 2014 2:32 PM

      I doubt if Monobina Gupta would make up these stories. I have family camping in Banaras now, who can bear testimony to the aggression of the right-wing party. Not surprising, especially when it involves the VHP, as Aditya has pointed out. I saw signs of it on the television programmes being relayed from Banaras too. I know that the media manufactures news and has done a lot of it in these elections, but somehow I can’t imagine the TV reporters asking the orange caps to heckle, so that the cameras can catch the action!! The greatest fear for many of us is that we will see this kind of behaviour escalate and become a part of our lives, after the 16th of May.

  2. May 9, 2014 1:25 PM

    evocative piece… maybe it is this spirit that somehow keeps one’s faith in the potential of the republic!

  3. May 9, 2014 4:32 PM

    I want so badly to see Modi loose, i can give away all my money to see that.

    • Osama permalink
      May 10, 2014 7:16 AM

      I only want to see him win once, so that all his die hard supporters get a fitting reply to the bloated claims of governance & development. I’m sure Modi is going to fall head first, if he comes to power.
      but yes I also fear the day, when such aggression will be common place after he Modi-sarkar comes to power. His supporters are so violent when he only contesting…imagine the level of their violence when their diety is finally crowned.

  4. May 9, 2014 7:54 PM

    Good vivid description by the author. However, there is no reason to be extra ecstatic about it. Almost everywhere in India, depending on constituency, some or other party does the same. I grew up in West bengal, there Left used to do it before, now TMC. In Mumbai, it is Shiv Sena, elsewhere NCP, MNS and Congress. In UP, it is SP, BSP, BJP, depending on areas.Reprehensible as it may be, it’s the reality in India. Maybe the author was unacquainted with this. Why, our deliverer AAP, did show their fangs in Delhi, didn’t they?

  5. Kunal Vohra permalink
    May 9, 2014 8:05 PM

    I will forever regret not being able to go to Varanasi to do my bit to keep Modi out.

  6. Sankar Kumar Das. permalink
    May 9, 2014 9:51 PM

    It is the duty of all political parties to see that their mass bases are not turned as their bastion of muscle power to disrespect the democratic system, wherein political opponents should be treated without any violent hostility..

  7. anaarkali permalink
    May 10, 2014 3:11 PM

    there are many people who want to see Modi lose,including some from his own party and it will not be only the Muslims who will be doing tactical voting in Varanasi!! Despite many problems with his formulations, Arvind Kejriwal must be credited with having ably concentrated the centre and left votes also and he might well pull off the greatest upset of these elections.

  8. pankaj permalink
    May 11, 2014 1:09 PM

    history is being made..AK is doing the most difficult part in Indian history..uniting people which is divided into 1)religion 2)cast 3)class 4)language 5) region

  9. prakash permalink
    May 14, 2014 10:10 PM

    this is kaliyug and hence i am very pessimistic about any chance for the good—the greedy ,the superficial and corrupt are likely to triumph for a long time to come. even the thinking people are clouded with non-sense and false virtues and materialism.

    • Sankar Kumar Das. permalink
      May 15, 2014 12:26 AM

      Along with many, I also want that let Modi be defeated. But I have no hesitation to accept him as Prime Minister of India, if the people vote for him to hold the power, provided democratic norms are maintained. It is true that ordinary supporters of any party occasionally becomes over-intoxicated so that their deity capture the power under any circumstances, if necessary by trampling all democratic norms. But if their deity wins through that process where oppositions were not allowed to campaign for their own candidates freely, the win of the ruling party at such stage does not symbolizes their proper win and from such candidate country cannot expect any thing better. Apart from that, it should be understood that in a country like India, Parliament is only one institute amongst other few institutes through which the country is ruled. If the ruling party tries to behave in the arbitrary ways by flouting all norms of democracy, there are other institutions, like Trade Unions/ Associations of different professionals, bureaucrats, Courts, and other constitutional authorities, which will resist it. Modi as such, will no be able to destroy the secular fabric of India, though his supporters/hencemen etc. trying to do it. But greater danger as we see that Modi is likely to completely surrender before anti-India Corporate Sectors, against which peoples resistence will be risen to the peak and no body will be able to contain that robust masses, unless their desire to have a exploitation free society is achieved.

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  1. Indian Election Results: Part 1: Why Modi Won | It's a Political World

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