Gearing Up for UP Polls, PM Modi Chose Sobriety Over Polarisation in Varanasi
There was no show of religiosity which has been the hallmark of PM Narendra Modi's previous trips to Varanasi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most recent visit to his Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi was like no other. All the usual trappings were missing. There was no show of religiosity which has been the hallmark of previous trips to this holy city. Nor did he whip up an emotional connect with his voters as he has done in the past with events that shock and awe to leave a lasting impression.
In fact, this was his most businesslike engagement with Varanasi in the seven years since he shifted base from Gujarat to UP. He came, he launched, he announced and left, leaving the city stunned by the lack of showmanship for which Modi is known.
While disappointed residents went back to work as usual after Modi flew out, political circles have been buzzing with speculation about the reason for the inexplicable show of restraint.
Modi's Fleeting Nod to Religion
Just days before, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had set out a polarising agenda for the UP polls in his annual Dussehra address. Diwali is round the corner and a grand celebration is planned in Ayodhya where the Ram temple is being built at a furious pace.
The spanking new corridor to the Kashi Vishwanath temple that Modi has "gifted’’ to Varanasi is almost ready for inauguration. And Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had created quite a buzz with her recent visit during which she did a round of temple hopping including a mandatory stop at Kashi Vishwanath and flaunted Hindu symbols with an aplomb to rival Modi.
The PM did not rise to the bait. He avoided all temples, even Kashi Vishwanath.
He refrained from mentioning the Ram mandir. But what surprised commentators most was that his forehead was bare of the red tika he always sports while in Varanasi.
There was just one fleeting nod to religion, when he was presented with an angavastram with Hindu symbols like the trishul embroidered in zardozi work. But he quickly took it off and did not wear it again.
Like Arjun in the Mahabharat, Modi focused on what he had come for, which was to launch a Rs 64,000 crore flagship scheme prepared by his government to up-scale the country’s health infrastructure.
PM Modi Hopes to Gain from Health Infrastructure Mission in 2024
The PM Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission aims to take "accessible, affordable and high quality health care’’ to every district in the country.
It is interesting that Modi chose Varanasi to unveil a project that he probably hopes to showcase as a major achievement in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls on the lines of Ujjwala Yojna and the Swachh Bharat Mission, which he strongly believes helped him consolidate rural votes in 2019.
Varanasi was one of the worst Covid-hit cities in UP. The death toll during those terrible weeks of the second surge is shrouded in mystery.
But anecdotal and photographic evidence report that the ghats were overflowing with dead bodies with those who perform cremations reporting daily numbers running into hundreds.
Given this background, Modi probably wanted to infuse the launch of his showpiece health mission from Varanasi with somberness and solemnity and eschew the usual hype that surrounds his events.
In fact, he talked only development in Varanasi, no politics. His caustic comments against previous governments for ignoring health infrastructure were made in Siddharthnagar where he digitally launched nine medical colleges for UP before going to his constituency.
PM Narendra Modi Avoided All Controversy
There is a conscious effort to stay away from controversy so that nothing overshadowed the health mission launch. For instance, the field where his rally was held covered 45 bighas of farmland on which there was standing crop waiting to be harvested.
Before the Opposition could slam Team Modi for depriving farmers of income from their hard work, his aides arranged for the crop to be harvested and purchased. The farmers are reported to be quite happy with this unexpected bonanza. They got their MSP and didn’t even have to pay for harvesting their crop. And the move took the wind out of the Opposition’s sails.
To avoid even a whiff of bad publicity, the organisers also sealed off all venues and prohibited the media from entering. Varanasi-based correspondents say this is the first time the media has been barred in this manner. But the orders served their purpose. There are no wrangles in the press to mar the visit.
Will This be the Tone of Modi and BJP for 2022 UP Polls?
Political circles are wondering whether Modi’s date with Varanasi this time has set the tone and tenor for his campaign in the 2022 battle for UP. His single-minded focus on the development theme, donning a statesman-like air by dwelling on issues that really matter on the ground like health and staying away from high-pitched emotive appeals are not part of his election playbook. Yet, he chose sobriety over polarisation in Varanasi although the UP election is just a few months away.
It’s always risky to predict anything about Modi. He loves to spring surprises and could well revert to his form once the campaign is in full swing. Yogi Adityanath, who fancies himself as a Hindutva icon to succeed Modi, must be monitoring the PM closely and waiting with bated breath to see what he does.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.