Having traveled over the past two weeks through Mumbai and then Ahmedabad observing the Indian general election, I have been continually underwhelmed by the evidence I have seen on the streets of the various campaigns. That feeling ended immediately when I stepped off the train in Varanasi junction this morning.
The walk from the station to the famous ghats on the Ganges is just about 5km and, for a viewer of the political landscape, the walk did not disappoint. I counted the following:
47 white Aam Admi Party caps. Roughly a third were worn by bike rickshaw pullers and the rest by random passersby. When I reached a major intersection near the ghats, it was hard to get an accurate count of the caps present, but about a half-dozen AAP volunteers manned each corner passing out information, cheering slogans, and raising brooms above their heads. In the time I was there, they were interviewed by a television news crew and handed out their materials to nearby police who stopped to listen.
2 AAP face and body painters. Down a random side street I ran into these two party loyalists.
14 BJP caps, 1 BJP t-shirt, and 2 BJP tennis visors. It seems the BJP has hopped on the AAP political fashion bandwagon.
1 red Samajwadi Party hat. While not grabbing many headlines surrounding the Varanasi polls, this party has the third most seats in the Lok Sabha behind the incumbent Congress Party and the BJP.
1 Congress cap and 1 Congress bandana wrapped around the wearer’s head turban style.
3 bicycle rickshaws outfitted with Modi stickers.
1 AAP campaign truck equipped with loudspeakers.
5 political billboards. 2 hoardings for the BJP, 1 for the Samajwadi Party, and one torn so badly it was tough to interpret, but looked to be for Samajwadi.
The final billboard was for Narendra Modi and was hanging behind the square dominated by AAP volunteers, a fitting juxtaposition of the two parties’ and their campaign strategies: canvas vs. grassroots.
When I passed back through the intersection several hours later, the volunteers had not abandoned their posts. Quite the contrary, the setting of the sun and subsequent drop in temperature only bolstered their ranks.