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Garam chai pe garam charcha in Banaras

May 10, 2014 17:52 IST

A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com records a heated discussion on NaMo at one of Varanasi's best-known locations.

Pappu's tea stall is among the many melting pots in the holy city of Varanasi. And, predictably, the only topic of discussion is Narendra Modi.

From his personal life to his political agenda, no aspect is left untouched.

Academicians, party workers, government employees, labourers and the aam janata pack themselves inside the tea stall to make sense of the politics being played out in the city over cups of tea that keep coming across the counter.

Sipping his cup of tea, A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com joined one such conversation.

Others who were part of the discussion included a know-it-all Modi fan, who blew more wind than the lonely creaking table fan, and activists belonging to the Aam Aadmi Party, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Snatches from the discussion:

Modi fan: For the first time, Banaras is voting for development. And Modi is the only candidate that represents Development. He knows bharatiya parampara (Indian tradition) and that makes him particularly suitable for a historical city like Banaras.

Bystander: Bharatiya parampara? That doesn't tell you to desert your wife!

Modi fan: Even Gautama Buddha left his wife...

Bystander: You are comparing Buddha with Modi?

Modi fan: Mahatma Gandhi said a married man can lead a life of brahmacharya (chastity) and for the country, you can leave everything.

Bystander: What the Mahatma meant by brahmacharya was abstinence and not desertion. He had children.

Modi fan: (visibly upset now) You don't like Modi. That's why you are talking like this.

It seems the AAP worker was waiting for this opportunity to pounce on the Modi fan.

AAP activist: This is exactly what I have been saying all along. The BJP cannot take criticism. They think by shouting loudly they can prove themselves right. They are going to lose badly and shouting and banging on the table is not going to change it.

The Congress activist suddenly realises that his AAP counterpart had stolen his thunder.)

Congress activist: Ajay Rai (the Congress candidate from Varanasi) is going to win the election. His deal with (Mukhtar) Ansari (the runner-up in the 2009 election) has tipped the scales in his favour. He will win as the Muslim vote is with him now. Also, he is a local; the other two are outsiders.

Modi fan: That is laughable. The deal with Ansari has, in fact, weakened him. He was getting the entire Bhumihar vote plus traditional Congress votes. By shaking hands with Ansari, he has lost those votes. The Bhumihars hate Ansari.

Congress activist: Ajai Rai is a strong man. You cannot scare him.

Modi fan: What strong? He (Ajai Rai) is no don. He was getting his strength from Brijesh Singh (a transporter and a former Faizabad district Congress office-bearer, a bahubali (strongman) like Ansari). Following the deal with Ansari, even Brijesh is upset with him.

Modi fan: Modi has addressed a hundred rallies in all parts of the country. Are they saying there are no Muslims there? Muslims in Varanasi are our friends. They have tea with us, do business with us; they are our people, not enemies. It is the Congress that divides us and them.

AAP activist: We are the most hardworking and we are going to win. You can shout as much as you want.

Congress activist: You are all underestimating the local man here. He is the son of the soil. He knows every voter and every voter knows him.

Modi fan: So he won't ask for votes, but you will vote for him?

Congress activist: The others ask for votes in the day time. Ajai's people work in the night. They have already made a deal with Ansari, who came in second last time. He is going to win without the drama of the BJP and AAP.

AAP activist: This time, AAP and the jhaadu (the AAP's electoral symbol) will sweep all of them away. You just wait and watch.

Modi fan: That is why you are getting beaten up every day. Your Delhi crowd will have to leave on May 10. Do you have enough locals to at least man the booths?

AAP activist: Do I look like an outsider to you? We will manage our booths. You just worry about your over-confidence.

Congress activist: We are winning easily. We have committed voters. You just wait and watch on May 12.

Modi fan: You don't even know the date of the counting of votes. What election are you going to win?

On the sidelines of this melee, tea stall owner Pappu's son Manoj is trying to find a seat for a new customer. He can't ask the occupants to vacate, but pleads with them to accommodate his new customer. The Congressman makes light of the situation.

Congress activist: The summer heat is making the political debate hot. But you don't have to roam the streets to know which way the wind is blowing. You just sit here and listen and you will know.

Meanwhile, Pappu is holding a parallel discussion with his friends across the street.

He sums up the situation thus: "They are always talking politics in my shop. But unlike previous elections, there is violence this time."

"It is the outside element. The Delhiwallahs don't know how to talk. The Banarasi doesn't like his tone," says Pappu.

"Remember this, Banaras mein sab raja hain koi runk nahni; yahan sab guru hain koi chela nahin (everyone is a king in Varanasi, not a subject; everyone is a leader here, not a follower)."

Bottom Image: Tea stall owner Pappu's son Manoj. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

A Ganesh Nadar