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Banaras: Locals Express Dissatisfaction Despite Major Religious Events by BJP

People belonging to the working class and small businesses are not entirely convinced with the tokenistic welfarism of the Yogi Adityanath government, nor are they happy with the prevailing law and order situation in the holy city.
Banaras: Locals Express Dissatisfaction Despite Major Religious Events by BJP

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Zee News

Varanasi: A month ago, the Annapurna Shobha Yatra was going to be concluded on November 15 in Durgakund, Banaras. A long yatra spanned from Delhi to Banaras by the BJP in celebrations of the return of Maa Annapurna, an idol stolen from Banaras a 100 years ago, kept in Canada until now. It also covered a lot of districts important for the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, 18 in total. Some of these were Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Unnao, Aligarh and Ayodhya.

After the yatra concluded at Durgakund, Vishnu Prajapati who participated in it throughout Banaras expressed satisfaction. “I am very happy that this yatra was a success and we have Maa Annapurna back in Banaras,” said Vishnu. CM Yogi Adityanath, including several state ministers, came to Banaras to install the idol in the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, making it a huge ceremonial event.

Though a celebration for many, Vishnu expressed a glimmer of doubt too in the context of the upcoming elections. “We will vote only on real issues. And in the present, the issues of mehngai in petrol, cylinder and even mustard oil are very important,” Vishnu said. Pawan Gupta, a person standing by some other locals near Dasaswamedha ghat saw the yatra pass by them and jokingly commented: “Again, the BJP is again resorting to Hindu-Muslim politics.”

The inflammatory slogan “Ayodhya toh ek jhanki hai, Kashi Mathura baki hai '' has also been in use among many to support the same kind of divisive politics. While BJP’s communal politics has been ramped up to a massive scale, people are in a flux of varying opinions about the importance of religious promotion and beautification of Banaras and the larger questions of inflation, jobs, etc.

Banaras, throughout the rule of CM Yogi Adityanath, has seen massive undeniable changes. Better roads, cleaner ghats (though not the Ganga river), and massive projects such as Kashi Vishwanath Corridor has convinced many to look at these as the true development of Banaras as a holy place. But people belonging to the working class and small businesses are not entirely convinced.

Sonu Dharmendra, who has a small shop selling eggs, sensed the cruel intent of the state government when taking up the new rations. “This refined oil, salt and chana is given today. What guarantees it will be so when the elections are over in February?” asked Sonu. Vicky, who was standing in the queue behind Sonu strongly lamented that this is all an election ploy. “This will all be done till elections and then it will not be given. That’s how I feel,” said Vicky.

The new ration of refined oil, salt and chana has been started recently across Banaras, post the inauguration of the much-hyped Kashi Vishwanath Corridor on December 13 by MP of Banaras, Narendra Modi. “The corridor will not feed our stomach. Neither will this one packet of oil. See, I have a family of 5, and do you think this will be sufficient? I still have to buy from the market, and mustard oil is costly so we are living on refined oil,” Sonu said. The ration packets are imprinted with large faces of CM Yogi and PM Modi, again making it an obvious election strategy. And if there is dissatisfaction with regards to small tokenisms of the present state government, many also think that it will not be any better regardless of who runs the government.

Naresh, another person receiving the basic ration at a ration centre in Bhojpur said that “the present government has done a good job around Banaras and in the whole of UP. This inflation of mustard oil and other things has been like this for a long time, prices will increase no matter who runs the government.”

The Yogi government’s claim to an improved and heightened law and order situation in UP seems to be adversely affecting some. Police action against small stalls and hawkers who set up shop on the road has been a point of worry among many. Raju, who puts up a makeshift stall selling fruit juice at Dasaswamedha ghat complains about the police hindering his business. “They make a lot of trouble when I put this stall in the corner of the road and regularly tell me to remove it. They give excuses that I am causing obstruction, but they don’t say anything about these bikes that have been parked,” Raju said.

Because of repeated police harassment, Raju has opted to pay a certain amount to the police to keep his stall, “but even then, they ask me to remove it on certain occasions. I have to follow their orders anyway,” Raju said. Police harassment has been increasingly frequent among small sellers, claims Mohit Sonkar, who is a street hawker selling vegetables at Padav. “Before it used to be that the police would come in a month or two, ask to fill their vegetable bags for free and leave. Now, it is so much more frequent, they come whenever they want and ask us to remove our carts, even if we give them free vegetables. Sometimes, they even confiscate our weights and scales as well and we have to go around to the (police) station to retrieve it. It is very troubling for us,” Mohit said.

Mohit is a young man who also prepares for government entrance exams, but he is short on hope of getting into any government services. “I understand that they want to make many sectors private. But they should not, at least, reduce the vacancies that are already there,” Mohit complains. Indeed, there has been a drop in government hiring, both at the level of centre and states. Work outsourcing and increasing privatisation in the backdrop of pandemic are some of the major factors that have led to such a drop. Gulshan Kumar, another student who recently appeared for NFL (National Fertiliser Limited) recruitment exam is disappointed with the current state of employment opportunities.

“Mandir and the corridor construction is all related to personal belief and depending on it is not good. Everything else has been ignored and the state government is too focussed on the single issue of religion.” Gulshan said. “We may clear our exams, we don’t know, but increasing privatisation seems to be a threat to vacancies. What exams will we even attempt if there are no vacancies?” It is more pronounced that many can see through the religious shenanigans of the present government. Ananth Kumar, a companion of Gulshan and a young student, scathingly critiqued the government over its overzealous religious politics. “I had very high hopes when this government came to be, now it is all about mandir and masjid. The Ayodhya Ram Mandir is getting done now, but they have already moved towards Krishna mandir in Mathura. This is how this government functions,” Ananth said.

Throughout Banaras, two major faces gearing up for the upcoming elections are Yogi Adityanath representing the BJP and Akhilesh Yadav representing Samajwadi Party (SP). The frustrations of various people mentioned above has many turned towards Yadav as a worthy candidate for the upcoming elections. “I don’t know who will win,” Naresh said laughingly, “but Akhilesh Yadav is a young candidate who I think can run the government. I just don’t want a three-legged government. The government should be stable,” Naresh said, pointing to the anxious uncertainty that the BJP might not sweep the elections with a majority this time. Ananth and Gulshan both remarked that we will vote for anyone who can dare to claim to remove the price hike and ensure us jobs. “We are not involved in any party, and we don’t take sides.”

Amid this flux of opinions, the stage is set for a clash of religiosity and material issues, and the people of Banaras have to give weight to either the material issues such as inflation that has been heavy on their pockets or the merits of mega-religious discourses promoted by the BJP government.

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