Modi turns Varanasi into a sea of saffron

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The holy city of Varanasi virtually turned into a sea of saffron as it went on a holiday on Thursday to welcome the man who is most likely to become India’s next Prime Minister — Narendra Modi.
Mr Modi filed his nomination papers for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, polling for which will take place on May 12. He was accompanied by BJP leaders Amit Shah, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Before filing his nomination, he said: “I feel as if the BJP hasn’t sent me here... but Ma Ganga has summoned me. I pray for strength so that I can serve this city.”
Mr Modi added he would help the city’s Muslim weavers to give a new lease of life to their trade with modern technology, branding, designing and marketing, just like he had done for kitemakers in Gujarat.
He also pledged to clean up the Ganga river, revered by millions of Hindus, as he had done with the Sabarmati river in Gujarat. “I thank the people of Varanasi for giving me so much love,” he told reporters.
He also said he would try to make it the spiritual capital of the world and a world heritage site. “Thank you, Varanasi. No words will describe the affection you have showered today. Truly touched,” he said in tweets later.
Earlier, as Mr Modi’s helicopter landed around 11 am at Benaras Hindu University, two hours behind schedule, cries of “Har Har Mahadev” rent the air. Lakhs jammed the roads to catch a glimpse of Mr Modi and every voter in Varanasi seemed aware that this time they were electing not an MP but a possible Prime Minister.
All schools and colleges were closed in view of traffic restrictions and diversions, and most commercial establishments too had downed their shutters to make way for the massive crowds.
Mr Modi, clad in a white kurta-pyjama, offered flowers at the statue of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, opposite the main entrance of BHU, and then turned around to bow before the multitudes gathered there.
His 2-km-long roadshow to the district collectorate was marked by singing and dancing by supporters, clad in a variety of traditional attire. Young men dressed in Modi T-shirts and Modi caps danced with gay abandon to welcome Mr Modi. Some were carrying Modi cutouts, which they waved frantically in the air.
Groups of women dressed in lotus printed saffron saris added colour, and the sound of drums and conch shells punctuated the slogans along the route. People had climbed on to treetops and rooftops, and could be seen precariously perched on boundary walls to get a glimpse of the BJP’s PM candidate.
The BJP leader’s convoy made multiple stops on the way to acknowledge the crowd’s greetings. Mr Modi also garlanded the statues of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Swami Vivekananda on the way.
Incidentally, Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel was seen accompanying Mr Modi in the roadshow. The BJP has given two seats to the Apna Dal — Mirzapur and Pratapgarh — in an attempt to win over the kurmi vote in Varanasi. Kurmis have a sizeable presence in two Assembly segments of Varanasi.
A significant aspect of Mr Modi’s Varanasi roadshow on Thursday was the visible presence of Muslims, who were seen waving enthusiastically. Mr Modi’s close aide Amit Shah, who supervised the arrangement for the event, told reporters that after the response to Mr Modi’s nomination, there was no doubt that he would win the seat with an all-time record margin, and that the “Modi wave” had turned into a “tsunami”.
Mr Shah said: “The large crowd at Varanasi has reflected that the Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh has turned into a tsunami. The defeat of the Congress, SP and BSP is certain in UP. The impact of the support will be felt in Bihar and other neighbouring states.”
Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya’s grandson, Giridhar Malaviya, a retired judge of the Allahabad high court, and well-known classical singer Chhandu Lal Mishra, a Padma Vibhushan recipient, were among the four proposers of Mr Modi. Both of them accompanied Mr Modi during the filing of the nomination.
Mr Modi’s roadshow was telecast nonstop by television news channels as 117 constituencies went to the polls in 11 states and Puducherry, driving an angry Congress to file a complaint with the Election Commission. The party sought the filing of an FIR against Mr Modi and other BJP leaders for a “serious violation” of the model code and electoral law provisions because of the continuous TV coverage.

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