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Narendra Modi Vs Kejriwal: Two contrasting campaign styles battle it out in Varanasi

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VARANASI: Narendra Modi may have enjoyed many Kodak moments in his life, but on Thursday morning he had some helicam moments, when a TV camera mounted on a toy chopper circled a minuscule crowd and built up excessive frenzy. It was manufactured hysteria, one made by TV for TV. In the evening, however, the Kodak moment for Modi would again arrive when huge crowds gathered along the road to cheer him on his way to the heart of Banaras.

In the blistering morning sun, outside the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) gate where the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was to start a road show in the evening because the local administration had not given permission to his party to hold a rally in the city, some BJP workers wearing soiled saffron, Kejriwal-modelled caps were waiting for party bigwigs to arrive to start a protest at the statue of Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of BHU and now one of the many ideological masters of BJP and Modi.

But the small crowd, protecting itself from the searing heat with gamchhas wound tightly around their faces and heads, did not portray, in any which way you looked, the massed energy and deliriousness that a wave brings forth. It was just a bunch of stragglers who had, perhaps without any conviction, assembled at the protest site and raised slogans and their sweaty hands for Modi when the helicam circled repeatedly above them with its whirring sound. This was surprising on a day when BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was slated to arrive to deliver his final punch in Purvanchal, the heartland region crucial for the party to take the saffroniks to power in Delhi and where BJP is fighting tough battles with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP.

In fact, it was the media circus that was drawing an eager crowd of casual onlookers and compelling them to pass caustic and supportive comments about the party. The scene in Banaras completely changed in the evening when the leader arrived in his chopper. Vigorous crowds chanting ‘Modi tere naam Banaras’ had massed all along the road from Lanka, the place where the protest started in the morning, to Sigra, where the road show was supposed to end at BJP’s campaign headquarters. “Modi will win big though not with the kind of landslide Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley expect,” said an ebullient BJP worker outside the Hq. His rustic and boisterous jauntiness was in stark contrast with the quiet, almost staid, campaign of the Aam Aadmi Party.

In the morning, however, as more TV crews came to the BJP party, people got more excited. This purely looked like a TV wave, and it was difficult to fathom how it would translate into votes for the BJP chieftain. If many believe that Modi is going to take Banaras with a thumping majority, the slight crowd, restive and disoriented in the scalding sun and raising slogans for cameras, did not give any indication.

But after Modi flew into the city from Rohaniya after holding a rally, the votes and passion for the BJP jefe were much in abundance on the narrow roads of Banaras. The grand, cinemascope style of BJP campaign, which took over most roads in Banaras in the evening, differed very much from Kejriwal’s serious and steady campaign, which was going deep into the villages of Banaras. If saffronBSE 4.84 % flag-waving and loud sloganeering dominated the saffron party’s campaign, Gul Panang brought some cheer to AAP as she zoomed through the city on her bike with other Kejriwal supporters. If Modi was cavalcade, AAP was two-wheelers.

“We are for young girls and boys in jeans and T-shirts, showing that youth is with Modi. But Kejriwal has put up a spirited fight,” said a BJP worker outside the Sigra office. Modi’s schedule is publicised, but heading out of the city in search of his rival and the poster boy of Indian politics and the country’s principal consciencepricker, Arvind Kejriwal, is as tough an ordeal as navigating the packed ancient-modern traffic of the temple town. The roads in Lahartara, Kabir’s birthplace in Banaras, are so battered that the mystic’s name evokes a sense of magic reality. Not of Garcia Marquez’s, but a typically Indian and dreadful one where, as in a sly magician’s devious show, you are transported to cruder levels of reality in shocking and bonerattling wonder.

In Banaras, where some darkness-wrapped villages take you back centuries, the glimmering, TV-fed Disneyland of Indian politics is a ticketless wonder for gawkers from all over the country. But outside Banaras, in the countryside where life remains a sordid tale of dejection and desperation commitment, in batches of volunteers from different states, has travelled in all its strength from all over the country. Even in the city, in Lanka, just outside the entrance arch of BHU where rowdy BJP workers are creating a ruckus for TV, a committed doctor and his family have quietly given out their house to AAP, whose workers sleep soundly, oblivious to the growing uproar outside. “It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, whether you vote for Kejriwal or Modi, but ours is the beginning of a new politics,” says the doctor in Lanka.

Kejriwal has taken on the might and money of Modi with his revolutionary slogans and the monotonous-yet-catchy drumbeat of Ambani-Adani. His posters are largely absent from the city, but what is present at most crossroads of Banaras is his army of intrepid, undaunted workers. Standing in the furnace of the sun with banners and caps, they quietly pitch to one the world’s oldest living city a new model of quasi-Leftist rhetoric. “He makes sense, he’s right about the issues he raises, he’s genuine. But can he run a government? This time my vote is for Modi,” says a young college student at the BJP’s Sigra office.

In the villages, Kejriwal himself is working the crowds with small yet charged meetings, a stark contrast with Modi, who is seen mostly on TV excoriating the misdeeds of the Gandhis or is remote and distant standing on a truck surrounded by the fortress of his security on his way to file his nomination. His connect with the crowds is through his hands, which he waves tirelessly. Even in his posters in the city, Modi’s hands, like an Indian classical dancer, strike different postures. A roadside Kejriwal meeting where an amorphous crowd of around 200 sits on half-broken chairs has a jerry-rigged feel to it.

A local generator cart has been commandeered and the electricity it generates is very patchy. Kejriwal’s crackly voice, still marked by quick bouts of coughing, is lost when the mic goes on the blink, but he continues as his connect with his audience, which lustily cheers him intermittently, is complete. Traffic on the road to Allahabad dallies a bit when it nears the hastily mounted meeting and heads pop out of bus windows to get a feel of the energised event by the roadside. Kejriwal and his band of troopers have been called the New Left of Indian politics, but his dedicated legions see in him a “re-birthed Ambedkar”, who always has and will hold the torch of truth aloft.

“We are 5,000 volunteers from all over India trying to touch every home in every village. We take glucose biscuits and water and fan into the remotest parts. Kejriwal will surprise all of you,” says an assured volunteer who has traveled all the way from Delhi after taking voluntary retirement from ICICI BankBSE 5.83 %.

As BJP commanders such as Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah and NalinBSE 4.98 % Kohli sit in the air-conditioned comfort of five-star hotels with embedded journalists, strategising and munching snacks and organising lavish pressers, Kejriwal drives on pitted and unpaved roads without the fetters of overpowering security into depths of darkness that is an Indian village.

There, he makes a rousing speech to a small group of villagers and their pradhaan, who by the way is also hosting some members of Kejriwal’s army in the night. At the crack of dawn, these volunteers, who have come from Punjab, Haryana and even Bangalore, will fan out to spread Kejriwal’s gospel. The campaign of the saffron party, expected to win more than 200 seats, is assured and confident and, in comparison with Kejriwal, more positive than the newly birthed party fighting its first national election. A majestic campaign with grandiose gestures is up against a small yet spirited pitch. A gallant Modi against a gusty Kejriwal.

Even if Modi wins Banaras handsomely, it will not be a big loss for Kejriwal. Because it is him, and not Modi that much, who has won hearts here. Modi alights from his whirlybird to disappear into the skies; Kejriwal alights from his car to disappear into the night, along with many desperate Indians whose day starts with hope and ends in despair.

A helicam appears the next day to capture the ‘Modi wave’ in the city. The fact that Kejriwal reappears in the morning in these dusty villages may be a sign of renewed hope for some benighted Indians. Only May 16, when Banaras will know who is the winner, will tell if Banarasis have chosen a man with a grand ambition for the country or a man who is making small yet effective steps to cleanse the country of filth and corruption.

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