If government for the poor is the avowed aim of the PM, there is no doubt that it is also helping him carve out a vote bank of the poor, cutting across caste lines.
Varanasi: In the village of Kaithigaon in the Lok Sabha constituency of Chandauli, abutting Varanasi, it’s the women in Bachau Rajbhar’s family, his mother and wife, who take the lead in answering the question who they will vote for on 19 May, in the seventh and last phase of the elections. “Modiji,” the two women say in unison, their faces half covered in ghunghat, as they stand on the doorsill of their one-room house, which has been built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin. It’s a pucca house with a concrete roof. The village has electricity, 24X7, thanks to which Rajbhar’s house not only has a lamp, but also a ceiling fan. Additionally, the small compound has two functioning toilets, built under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Bachau is a flower-seller who also works as a labourer and would have never dreamt of having a “pucca” house if he did not get the Rs 120,000 in his bank account from PMAY-G. But then he was not destined to spend his life in the crumbling hovel dominating one side of the compound where his house has been built. Bachau’s village has five-to seven more such houses. Similar is the case in the Prime Minister’s adopted village, Jayapur in Varanasi constituency. There the two brothers, Raju Goud and Radheshyam Goud, have been able to build a one-room house each, complete with toilets. However, back in Kaithigaon, Ghurphekkal Ram is still waiting for the village headman to get his name included on the list of beneficiaries of the PMAY-G. But his dilapidated hut has got a gas cylinder and a burner under the Ujjwala scheme. Ghurphekkal fills up the cylinder every couple of months. The burner has developed some problems so will have to be repaired. Ghurphekkal is a Jatav, the caste to which Mayawati belongs. When asked if he would vote for the Mahagathbandhan candidate, he angrily utters an expletive and retorts: “Arre kya kiya woh? (What has she done that I will vote for her)?” As this writer is about to leave the village, one of Ghurphekkal’s family members asks in a whisper, “If the BJP loses power will the next government take away our gas cylinder?”
If last mile delivery or government for the poor is the avowed aim of the Prime Minister, there is no doubt that it is also helping him carve out a vote bank of the poor, cutting across caste lines.
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The Prime Minister’s adopted village, Jayapur, around 30 km from Varanasi, is in mint condition. The roads are good, electricity is there, the sub-post office and two ATMs are fully functional. There is a primary school in the village and a public school nearby, which teaches students up to Class 12. The school has its own yellow buses, although the older students cycle their way back home to Jayapur. The village also has a yarn spinning unit where 75 village women work. Fifty of the 75 machines here run on solar power and women such Gayatri, Kanchan Patel, Ankita Singh supplement their family incomes by earning around Rs 4000 each every month. However, such solar powered units are not confined to Jayapur only. Some other villages too have set up such units, where many village women work.
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Every evening in Varanasi, a father-son duo organises the hour-long Ganga arati on the Prachin (ancient) Dashashwamedh Ghat, the relatively smaller ghat next to the “new” Dashashwamedh Ghat. They are the malik (owner/s) of this ghat. Dinesh Shankar Dubey’s father, Kishori Raman Dubey started Varanasi’s first Ganga arati here in 1997, inspired by a similar arati in Haridwar. The duo has put to music some ancient mantras that are chanted by the five priests who perform the arati. The priests, one of whom is from Nepal, are young men—all “Vaidic Brahmins”, who are “Vedic students” studying Sanskrit in Varanasi. The arati is run on donations from pilgrims and other visitors. The priests have to be paid Rs 4,000-5,000 each a month, a kilogram of camphor is used every evening, apart from ghee, lights and flowers among other things. “We do not have any ticket system. This is not a business for us. We also do not take any help from the government, nor do we take any money from the visitors. It is up to the visitors what they want to donate. But there is no doubt that running the arati is expensive,” says Dinesh Shankar Dubey. As darkness descends and people from different parts of India and abroad assemble at the ghat, a plate is passed around amid the clanging of bells and recital of hymns, seeking donation. As the plate fills up with notes of different denominations, a receipt book is also brought out for those who want to donate bigger sums of money, but that book does not find many takers.
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The boatmen of Varanasi seem to have undergone a generational change. Jeans, T-shirt and floaters-clad, many of them are in their late teens or early 20s and are students. Some of them like Abhishek Nishad are part-time boatmen. Abhishek is a Class 12 student and talks in percentages: “I will say that there has been a 25% increase in the income of Varanasi’s boatmen ever since the Prime Minister has become MP from here. This is a VIP constituency so people come here out of curiosity and since the Ganga is cleaner, more people are coming.” He rows his family boat when he is not studying, knows Varanasi like the palm of his hand and plans to do a Master of Tourism and become a tour guide to begin with.
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At Varanasi’s newly renovated Manduadih station this writer chances upon Manohar Anandrao Patil from Latur in Maharashtra, campaigning for himself with an Indian flag on his shoulder and a placard around his neck. He has an Election Commission card to prove that he is a candidate for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat. He is barefoot and is dressed like Mahatma Gandhi. He claims to be an ex jawan with the Indian Army. He says he lost his family in the Latur earthquake of 1999. He is opposed to all political parties and says he is fighting the election to highlight issues of farmers and the common people in general. He sleeps at temples at night, starts campaigning at 4 in the morning and does not eat before sundown. His election symbol is a diamond. He may not get a single vote in these elections, but that thought does not deter him from campaigning across Varanasi on foot.