Today a sea of people lined the streets of Varanasi to take part in the world’s biggest act of democracy, voting for the 2014 general elections. 506 million people have already cast their vote in other parts of the country. Today was the ninth stage, as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar cast their votes. At 5pm, the turnout in Varanasi was at 53%, up 10% from the 2009 elections.
This year, the people appear ready for change.
The Congress Party has been in power for the past decade, and Vice-President Rahul Ghandi’s family has been at the forefront of the party for many years. His father was prime minister and president of the Congress Party, before his assassination in 1991. His mother is the current president. His grandmother was the iconic ‘She,’ or Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India until 1984, when she was assassinated by her own bodyguards in retaliation for ordering troops to storm the Sikh Golden Temple in Armristar.
This year, there appears to be only one name on everyone’s mind, and that is Narendra Modi. Entering Varanasi a few days ago, we passed numerous rallies being held in support of him and his party. It seems that everyone is passionate in their support for this man, who started off as a humble ‘chai-walla.’
On a boat ride along the Ganges, two children in my boat were coached to recite a chant about him by their father, and they joyfully shouted out over the dark Ganges, as people on the banks shouted back and laughed. This went on for the duration of the boat ride and the air was thick with a sense of camaraderie and excitement.
On the streets it is the same. People call out his name to hear it called back at them. ‘Modi, Modi!’ rolls like a wave from voice to voice along the streets. The sound has become as common as a rickshaw’s horn or children’s voices echoing in the backstreets. The ground is littered with masks of his face and flyers. When I mention his name, the people smile and tell me he will win.
BJP is canvassing on promises of change and a stable government. ‘Time for Change. Time for Modi.’ Of course, we all know the success that such a word can bring, and that seems to be the case here.
Critics of Modi claim he has too much anger. A self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, he was also suspected of initiating the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots in 2002, where an estimated 2,000 were killed and 100,000 displaced. He was Chief Minister at the time He was cleared of all charges in 2012, and a member of the party was found guilty, yet some suspicion remains.
Modi is promising economic revival and quality education while fighting corruption. His record as Chief Minister of Gujarat shows he is successful when it comes to economic growth, but failed to improve human development.
Some say that Modi is overshadowing the party, but the people of Varanasi remain passionately supportive of Modi, even though, as one man commented, and as is the way with all politics, although they are all hoping for change, real change takes time and promises made don’t always become reality. The results are out on the 16th, but in the minds of the people of Varansi, Modi has already won.