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“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

The land of Varanasi (Kashi) has been the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages.

The new change in Kashi is that it has brand new sparkling roads, one of the perks of being a two-time Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s constituency. But, the voters, as befits the denizens of one of the eternal cities of the world, are unimpressed. When you live in a city that has “Kaal Bhairav” (Shiva) as the “Nagar Kotwal” (chief police officer), nothing fazes you.

Residents of Kashi are acutely aware that they live in the PM’s constituency, but, unlike, say, Baramati, another VVIP constituency represented by senior leader Sharad Pawar, who has now given his pocket borough for daughter Supriya Sule to contest, Kashi residents feel they bestow the glory of being India’s holiest city on their parliamentarian.

“We have always had VVIPs wanting to represent us because they know what a status upgrade they would get by being our MP. Our leaders live in Kashi’s reflected glory,” said Ram Sharma, who has lived in the city for several generations.

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The normal maniacal “chehel pehel” (brisk activity) marking an Indian election is missing. Kashi’s streets are always packed and, as in all other parts of Uttar Pradesh, the conversation is only political. The real excitement is, as always, reserved outside the Kashi Vishwanath temple which, on the day I visited, saw 700,000 devotees pay obeisance. The lines are winding, and security is in-your-face visible despite some policemen attempting a rather strange disguise in saffron, dressed as priests.

Stand in line to enter for Darshan, and the vastness and diversity of India are spread out like a long mosaic as worshippers from all over India, distinct in their clothes and looks, patiently queue up. Huge posters and flex cutouts of Modi are everywhere with the details of the goodies he has brought to Kashi.

Coming a close second is Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of UP, and freely spoken of as Modi’s heir apparent.

An opposition counter barely exists, underlining and foregrounding the fact that they neither have the means nor the face of the BJP.

While Modi is busy spearheading BJP’s outreach to the South of India, where it barely has a presence beyond Karnataka, he is sanguine about the full support of heartland North India, which has twice propelled him to victory.

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The 80 Lok Sabha seats give UP and the party that wins them huge political flex and bragging rights. With the Gandhi family, all three of them — Sonia Gandhi and her two children, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi — were abdicated from UP, currently not contesting any seats here, the people are upset.

“Yeh kaise Neta hain? Hamara Pandijee, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, his daughter and PM, and Rajiv Gandhi sab se nata tha. Inko kya pata nahi UP ki kya ahemiat hai? Indira Gandhi har teen mahiney mein Kashi Vishwanath mein puja karti theee. Unko ek ek Banarasi sari ki dukan ka pata tha.” (What kind of leaders are these? We have had links with Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi. Don’t they know the importance of UP? Mrs. Gandhi used to come and worship at Kashi Vishwanath every three months. She knew each and every Banarasi sari shop),” says a septuagenarian Kamala Mishra, whose eyes still light up when she speaks of Mrs. Gandhi’s fondness for the exquisite woven saris.

The Gandhi family would do well to reflect on what Kashi and UP are talking about. The fact that the Gandhi family are not even election tourists is not lost on these, the most discerning political watchers. UP is currently dismissive of the Congress party and the Gandhi family.

Until you speak to people on the ground, you don’t understand how important the current law and order situation is and how much Yogi Adityanath is credited with bringing about change. The infrastructure brought by Modi to Kashi is also slowly transforming the city and its environs.

The Ayodhya ceremony of the “pran pratishthan” (living) of Lord Ram, presided over by Modi, has been a deft move as religious tourism has gained momentum. Locals speak of huge numbers of pilgrims coming to visit temples in Kashi and then going on to Ayodhya. This has led to a boom in travel facilities, hotels, and restaurants.

The BJP has also committed to increasing public resources for religious tourism. Voters loudly endorse the BJP, but an undercurrent of hurt at being ignored by the opposition is apparent. “They are so lazy. They have written off Kashi to Modi and UP to Yogi,” says young voter Yatendra.

He’s right. The opposition is barely making an effort in most of India and is not even showing up in Kashi.