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Modi In Varanasi: Festive Saffron Fervour

Last updated on: May 14, 2024 13:30 IST
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Utkarsh Mishra's impressions of the Narendra Modi roadshow in Varanasi.

IMAGE: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi undertakes a roadshow in Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency, May 13, 2024, with UP BJP leader Yogi Adityanath alongside. Photograph: ANI Photo

When author Christopher Hitchens went undercover to North Korea, he had decided that come what may, he would not use the cliché 'Orwellian' to describe the country in his recollections about the visit. However, after what he saw there, he could not think of any other word apt enough to describe it.

The above is only a reference point to say something that could have been said otherwise too, so it need not be scanned for any hidden meaning. Because, when I went to cover Narendra Modi's roadshow in Varanasi on Monday, I knew that my peers in the media, especially the television media, would certainly be using phrases like 'festive fervour' or 'sea of saffron', so I would refrain from doing so.

IMAGE: BJP supporters on way to the starting point of the roadshow. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

However, walking for about 4 km on the path on which the roadshow was taken, I could not think of a word other than 'festive' to describe the atmosphere. And there indeed was a 'sea of saffron'.

Anticipating the huge crowd that would join the event, tight security arrangements were in place. Traffic was diverted well in advance and all roads leading to the roadshow route were shut for vehicles (except for ambulances, and I saw a couple of them pass).

Everyone, whether a part of the 'sea of saffron' or not, had to walk the rest of the way. However, there were a few people who were seen requesting the cops to let them take their vehicles further as their houses were nearby or there was an emergency.

IMAGE: Children dressed as Ram, Sita and Lakshman sit atop a truck that was taken around with the chants of 'Jai Shri Ram'. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

Bharatiya Janata Party supporters wearing party caps and holding its flags, who were brought to Varanasi from nearby villages and districts in jeeps and buses, were also dropped at these barricades and they made their way further on foot, shouting slogans like 'Jai Shri Ram', 'Modi-Yogi Zindabad' etc.

Along with this 'sea of saffron', I moved towards the Lanka Chauraha, where Modi had garlanded the statue of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, situated in front of the main gate of the Banaras Hindu University.

IMAGE: The platform which Modi used to garland the Malaviya statue was soon occupied by BJP supporters and others for clicking selfies. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

Since Modi had moved ahead, BJP supporters and others had climbed the platform and were clicking selfies and shouting slogans.

Across the road is the Sir Sunderlal Hospital, BHU, which is always overcrowded with patients not only from the city, but from the whole of Poorvanchal region and outside, especially from the nearby districts of Bihar.

IMAGE: BJP/Modi banners were seen on most of the buildings along the roadshow's route. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

There were several people who were waiting across the road near the medical shops for the crowd to pass so that they could go to the hospital. I spoke to a couple of them, they were not in a hurry to get anywhere. Many of them were also clicking pictures.

SEE: Artists play the shehnai on a stage during the roadshow. Video: Utkarsh Mishra/


As I moved ahead along the path trailing the roadshow, I saw the stages that were set up alongside the road on which various performances were showcased to welcome Modi. Along with vocal and instrumental performances by various artistes, these stages had people from various wings of the BJP playing songs to which the supporters shook a leg.

IMAGE: A boy wearing a Modi t-shirt and holding a BJP flag posed for a photograph. The banner besides him shows Modi offering prayers to Ram Lalla at the Ayodhya temple.
It reads, 'Ram kaju keenhe binu, mohi kahan bishram', a line from the Ramcharitmanas which means, 'How can I rest without completing Ram's work?' Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

The songs ranged from 'Jo Ram ko laye hain, hum unko layenge (we will vote for those who built the Ram temple)' to those showcasing government schemes. A few songs also had lyrics that meant 'thieves are now scared of bulldozer', or 'those who built Kashi will also build Mathura'.

Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram was also being sung from one stage. I waited for a while to see if they moved to the next line, 'Ishwar, Allah Tero Naam'; Sorry Bapu, they didn't!

SEE: Actors dressed as Ram, Sita, Lakshman during the roadshow. Video: Utkarsh Mishra/


There were also actors dressed as Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Hanuman and even (my best guess) Shabari (the woman ascetic belonging to the Bhil tribe who, as per the Ramayana, waited for Ram to come to her ashram).

IMAGE: Artists play various instruments on one of the several stages set up all along the way. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

The cries of 'Jai Shri Ram' rented the air all along. It was occasionally broken by 'Har Har Modi', or 'Modi-Yogi Zindabad'. Yogi Adityanath accompanied Modi on the roadshow.

IMAGE: A child wearing a Modi mask during the roadshow. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

Journalists from local to national television channels had set up cameras at various places and were speaking to small groups of people. Some said they 'had no words' to describe how they were feeling being part of this jubilation, some took potshots at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, while some described how Modi has taken Varanasi and the country to new heights.

IMAGE: A group of foreign tourists joined in the revelry. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

A group of foreign tourists was spotted wearing saffron caps, and showing a few steps that amused party workers and bystanders alike.

One of them, Michael from the United States, told me that they knew about the roadshow in advance. "Yes, I know. It's your prime minister, you people are going to vote very soon. All the best," he said.

SEE: BJP supporters from the transgender community sing and dance during the procession. Video: Utkarsh Mishra/


The roadshow also passed through areas having a predominant Muslim population. And there were quite a few smiling faces wearing skullcaps among the bystanders, as the crowd moved ahead shouting 'Jai Shri Ram'.

IMAGE: Muslim residents stand among the bystanders watching the procession. Photograph: Utkarsh Mishra/

A few steps further, men and women in uniform had formed a human barricade to stop people moving further. Maybe because Modi's cavalcade was nearby. People were allowed to move ahead only a few minutes later.

SEE: Artists perform on a roadside stage. Video: Utkarsh Mishra/


An elderly man asked a young cop, "Bas hogaya? (is that it)?" to which the policeman replied, "Haan, jaiye, ab aap azaad hain (yes, go, you're free now)."

As tempting as it was to say something snarky, for once I retained myself from being a part of the group that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta calls 'critics spreading negativity, negativity, negativity'.

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UTKARSH MISHRA / in Varanasi