Varanasi: India’s new Gangotri
by Sandhya Jain on 06 May 2014 13 Comments
As the long drawn parliamentary election meanders to a close, it would be churlish to deny that Narendra Modi gambled well in his choice of Varanasi as the wellspring of his plans for rejuvenating India, economically and civilisationally. It is equally evident that the people of Gujarat realise he will quit Vadodara in the event of being anointed Prime Minister, and are willing to pay this price for the honour of having a son of the soil at the helm of the nation’s destiny at a testing time in its history. This gamble seems set to succeed.


The selection of Varanasi as the new Gangotri of an ancient civilisation is apt, not accidental, for no other city so embodies India’s eternity, unceasing energy, and patient tenacity to endure. Kashi, where the BJP leader has promised to restore the Ganga to its pristine purity, owes its eternal significance to the fact that it is here that the river bends back northwards to salute her Himalayan source before continuing downstream towards the Bay of Bengal.


The Ganga trickles out of the matted locks of Shiva, which is how the pyramidal peak of Kailash appears to the human eye. Mahadeo is inseparable from the story of the Ganga, or the story of Rama, for it was at Kashi that Shiva meditated to conceive the avatarhood of Rama; his presence is immortalised in the jyotirlinga of Vishwanath, lord of the world. The divine mother Parvati, present in her forms as Durga, Mahakali, Saraswati and Vageshwari, further marks her presence at the Manikarnika Ghat where she dropped her ear ring while bathing.


All strands of native tradition are woven into the weft and woof of the rich civilisational matrix of Kashi. For Jainas, it is the birthplace of Parsvanatha, born to king Asvasena and queen Vama, who refused the throne in pursuit of his spiritual quest, and became the twenty-third Tirthankara. In a previous incarnation, he was a prince of Ayodhya; Jainas believe that twenty-two Tirthankaras hailed from the Iksvaku dynasty of Sri Rama and two from the Hari clan of Sri Krishna. For Buddhists, too, Kashi is a venerable city; Gautam delivered his first sermon in the deer park in nearby Sarnath and preached in the city.


Through the ages, the city has drawn seers and seekers like a magnet. Adi Shankaracharya received enlightenment after encountering Shiva in the form of a Chandala at Ganga Ghat. The sage Ramananda, Sant Kabir, Sant Raidas, and the Nath Panthi yogis added to its lustre. It was here that Goswami Tulsidas ‘saw’ and noted the Ramcharitmanas; he built the famous Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple. For centuries it has been the centre of learning. In the modern era, Bhartendu Harishchandra, Jai Shankar Prasad, Munshi Premchand, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and the Theosophists converged on the city as the nation’s cultural fountainhead.


Kashi throbs with the promise of life, and liberation. As Shiva is also Nataraj, it is reputed to be the birthplace of nritya (dance), natya (drama) and vocal and instrumental music. The legendary shehnai player, Ustad Bismillah Khan, embodied this rich cultural legacy. So did countless others in countless ways, for Muslims, as late Girilal Jain noted, are a strand in the multi-strand Indian civilisation (The Hindu Phenomenon). At the other end of the spectrum, Kashi promises moksha, liberation from the cycle of life and death; the devout seek to exhale their last breath here in the hope of union, sanjugti, with the divine.


With so much living symbolism associated with the city, the rage of political rivals at Narendra Modi’s stupendous road show when he went to file his nomination is understandable. The city came to a standstill; schools and colleges shut down (note that the Samajwadi Party rules the State), as did shops and other establishments; even magistrates, lawyers and litigants lined the road outside the courthouse; apparently only the Collector’s office functioned on April 24. No other nomination – not Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, or even Narendra Modi himself at Vadodara – in India’s electoral history equals what happened in Varanasi, where the wells of hope in a parched land opened up and flooded the city.


Certainly the people were there for Mr Modi, but at a deeper level they were there to affirm their optimism in the future. No other candidate has given people so much confidence in his ability to deliver on a complex vision that embraces diversity and shuns uniformity. This has cruelly exposed the hollowness of slogans that have hitherto passed off as the vision of political leaders, but burst like balloons when tickled by the BJP Prime Ministerial contender. The Congress’s complaint to the Election Commission that the Varanasi road show violated the Model Code of Conduct shows how badly it is rattled, for Rahul Gandhi has had to wind up speeches with crowds walking out on him; cancel rallies due to thin crowds; and even Sonia Gandhi has faced thin crowds in places, a fact even the loyal media could not disguise.


Mother Ganga has decided that a born pauper shall be a born-again prince and Kashi the archetype of India’s rejuvenation. In this spirit, Mr Modi’s reverence to Sardar Patel was a pledge to the unity he crafted; respect to Pt Madan Mohan Malaviya a commitment to modern education rooted in civilisational values; while Swami Vivekananda and Dr BR Ambedkar are revered as socially unifying figures. Narendra Modi’s proposers, a retired judge and grandson of Pt Malaviya; a classical singer; a weaver and a boatman, capture the heart and soul of the eternal city.   


Arvind Kejriwal, fresh from the high of 49 days as Delhi Chief Minister, can be excused for thinking that he could be the ‘Raj Narain’ who would fell the new ‘iron man’. But for the Congress to invoke the services of a man accused of murdering the brother of its candidate Ajay Rai is a new low. Even more pathetic is its desperation to believe that this can work.


When a former actress from Mumbai lands in Amethi and forces Sonia Gandhi to rush to rally the troops; when Priyanka Vadra has to appeal for support from village to village while pretending to ditch her security but ferrying cameramen along; you know that all is not well. Instead of retreating with the grace of a defeated army, the Congress is hurtling like an irresistible force towards an implacable object. It can only come off worst.

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