Varanasi was calling. It had become the centre of a battle of proportions that I had not envisaged. A battlefield of ideologies and in a way, a battle between money and power on one hand and passion on the other.
The election there is attracting people from all parts of India and from Maharashtra, hundreds of volunteers left their daytime jobs, to head to Varanasi and help in the campaign for Arvind Kejriwal.
Trains were sold out, and flights were expensive, but the pull was too strong. Some of us decided to spend a good bit of money and fly so we don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Many volunteers jumped into packed general compartments of trains, sleepless and excited.
On my flight, I found many AAP supporters, including some prominent Muslim opinion-makers who were on their way to assess the situation.
As I landed in Varanasi yesterday, it was as if there was electricity in the air. Porters, airline employees, and passengers welcoming all of us with a broad smile, hug and a thumbs up sign.
As we entered the city, we saw how Varanasi has become extremely polarised, almost an equal number of people wearing AAP And BJP caps. But there was a difference. The AAP volunteers were passionate, spirited, shouting like mad whereas BJP supporters seemed like paid volunteers just going through the paces.
There was no trace of Congress, SP, BSP on the streets. It seems as if it is a straight battle between Kejriwal and Narendra Modi.
In the last few days, the tide seems to have turned. Varanasi with its ancient tradition of tolerance and love seems to have had enough of excess of money power and in-your-face Modi advertisements. It seems like there is Modi Fatigue. The attack on peaceful AAP supporters by BJP thugs, has shocked voters and the peace-loving Banarsi babus.
Every chowk had these passionate AAP supporters distributing caps, and they waved out to Modi supporters who passed by on bikes or in cars.
There are 300 villages in Varanasi and AAP was the only one which was campaigning in them vigorously. As I write this blog, I am in a distant village in Rohanya meeting AAP volunteers for booth-level training. The stakes are high. The 16th will determine whether Modi will win or history will be made