Lore has it that all roads lead to Kashi — one of the world’s oldest cities and India’s eternal city, currently the constituency of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Modi used his political capital in an all-shots-pulled-out three-day blitzkrieg for the final phase of the all-important UP assembly elections.
Giving him fierce competition were the sibling duo of Congress, India's principal opposition party - Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, who prayed in the holy precincts of the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Joining the battle was Akhilesh Yadav, who has done his best to make the UP election a bi-polar one — Yadav versus Yogi.
A glorious paradox
The voters of Kashi seemed to have forgotten the bodies floating on the sacred Ganga merely some months ago. But, then Kashi is both the city of the living and the dead — living in a glorious paradox.
All the four leaders criss-crossing Kashi believe that they have an appointment with history. Modi believes a third term as PM which rests on how his party — the BJP does in the UP elections — will yield him a choice spot in both Indian and Sangh (India’s right wing association/ecosystem) history.
The Gandhi siblings believe that it is their destiny to protect India from the ideology of the Sangh parivar. Perhaps Yadav is more prosaic but, nonetheless as real. He just wants to win UP and finally stamp his place in his family as much more than just Mulayam Singh’s dynast son.
Vying for the big prize
When leaders go grandiose, trying for a place in the history books, bread and butter issues get lost. Anyone who spends a day in UP will come away convinced that the real panacea for what ails UP is jobs, jobs and more jobs. Instead, it is the one thing Modi and Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of UP now nicknamed “Bulldozer Baba” don’t talk about on the stump.
Instead, they talk about the welfare schemes of free rations and other free goodies which have been on offer to the UP electorate. Modi talks of all the central aid he has released and Yogi makes knowing self referential remarks on law and order and how the bulldozer has rolled over “criminal elements”.
Akhilesh Yadav who has sensed the potential of the jobs issue is promising to create more and more jobs. The Gandhi siblings, especially Rahul Gandhi, prefer to stick to a bigger and more ideological fight with the BJP.
The problem of unemployment
The state of employment in UP is such that unemployed young men and women consider attending election rallies a job with rate cards doing the rounds. UP is a mirror to India and I sense that the issue of unemployment might turn India’s young demographic dividend into a nightmare.
Yet because of the highly polarised times we live in, the jobs crisis is not getting the attention it deserves from any political party. It suits the BJP — ruling both in the state and centre — but you wonder why the opposition doesn’t keep drumming it in.
The size of the crowds at the rallies in Kashi is also a testimonial to the jobs crisis. On a weekday it is a sea of people buzzing with energy and conspiracy theories about how Mayawati has helped Modi and does Priyanka Gandhi actually live in Lucknow.
The UP voter specially in the VVIP constituencies like Kashi and Amethi has a swagger of familiarity with power. But, even those who briefly connect with powerful leaders need jobs to earn a living.
This finally is the issue of the UP elections. March 10 will answer.