On Saturday, Varanasi provided a fitting finale, as grand a climax as one could have asked for to this bitter and gruelling elections in Uttar Pradesh. It was a riot of colour, a mass of people, as Narendra Modi's challengers, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, sought to match the prime minister move for move, symbolism for symbolism, temple for temple.
The massive mobilisation on both sides brought this chaotic holy city to a grinding halt. BSP supremo Mayawati, largely functioning under the radar in this high voltage, high octane election, addressed a massive rally on the outskirts of the city, underlining the point that the battle for Uttar Pradesh is by no means a two horse race.
Prime Minister Modi grabbed eye balls in the morning, staring on a long winding road show, and was cheered on by his supporters. As is his wont, he garlanded every statue in sight and rounded it off with an hour-long darshan at the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Two hours later, the alliance responded with an equally impressive show. Samajwadi Party and Congress workers put on a huge show of strength with a roadshow that covered seven kilometres in six hours.
Their supporters thronged the roads, waiting long hours merely to catch a glimpse of Akhilesh, Dimple and Rahul Gandhi. By the time the road show came to an end at the Girjaghar Chowk late in the evening, the crowd had swelled unimaginably. Earlier in the day, the supporters came in under attack, after miscreants pelted them with stones.
LEADERS MAKE A BEELINE FOR TEMPLE
The prime minister visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple in the afternoon, while Rahul, Akhilesh and Dimple paid obeisance at the temple in the evening. Both sides were careful to push all the right buttons in this politically sensitive city.
In putting on such a major show of strength in Varanasi , Akhilesh and Rahul sought to convey several messages. They are not just taking the battle to the prime minister's home turf (Varanasi is Modi's Lok Sabha constituency), they were in many ways taking a leaf out of Modi's book and paying him back in the same coin.
The presence of a large number of union ministers and the fact that the Modi is having to spend the last three days of the campaign in his constituency has turned it into a massive prestige issue for the prime minster. If today's massive turnout converts into votes for the alliance, the BJP may very well have a big reason to worry.