Saturday, May 10, 2014

Paan Politics of Varanasi

Paan Politics of Varanasi

To theist, atheist and agnostic, Varanasi is still held with awe, for its variety of paan. The city, a unique cultural melting pot, boils down to common liking, irrespective of class, caste, creed and religion, for banarasi paan. Cutting across the state borders its popularity has spread to all corners of the country. Banarasi paan kiosks are source of income to migrants from UP and Bihar in and outside their respective state. Certainly, they cannot match the marketing strategy of multi-national eating joints, but still by word of mouth it has made its presence felt in all parts of the country.
Interestingly, there is no particular individual brand name for banarasi paan, but its geographical identity itself is a saleable brand. Hence, without patent/copyright hassles anyone can invest in banarasi paan and earn a living. For the residents of Varanasi, paan kiosks have more significance than chewing. Paan kiosks are center of community interaction.
I, fortunately, have landed up in Varanasi to witness the historic election contest going on. The high octane melodrama fueled by interesting situation with BJP prime ministerial candidate, the hot favourite riding high on new personality cult wave in BJP, AAP’s attempt to build a sizeable fight that still is in wanting for enough mobilization, Congress’s dilemma to go all out or not, due to internal challenge for having drawn flak for seeking support from person alleged to be contestant’s brothers murderer, and the regional satraps in BSP and SP having lost ground, has caught every ones eyes and ears, nationally and internationally. The parties and their stalwart leaders are indulged in mudslinging politics.
In such volatile situation the paanwalas’ of Varanasi are making hay. For them it is golden opportunity to cash on the culture of discussions at paan gumti (kiosks). The election fever clubbed with weakness of Varanasi people for their paan is right combination for political discussions at paan gumtis. Paanwala, at feverish pace keeps busy churning one after another paan for customers, though customer is hardly in haste. For them it political anaylsis has overtaken the taste of paan.

Some of the dialogues overheard enriched and breasted me with the current situation in Varanasi.
“AAP has succeeded in fragmenting the muslim votes. It is now divided into four sections- SP, BSP, Congress and AAP. This division of minority vote will go in favour of BJP”.
“Today Modi has made strong statement about Azamgarh. That has changed the situation overnight. SP boss may have to struggle to win his seat.”

In between a new analyst would intrude. There are no prerequisite conditions to engage in ongoing discussions. Even acquaintance is not a necessity. Only convenient situation is to be a paan eater or a company of a paan eater.

“Varanasi is soon going to witness development, similar to Gujarat.”
“Congress candidate’s sister in law is moving door to door in the community asking to boycott him, as he is seeking support of his brothers murderer.”
There are all sorts of speculations regarding the margin between the winner and the closest second.

Through the discussion paanwala would get his instructions. “Meetha paan with chawan bahaar, laung, supadi and…”, “less katha, 320 jarda”, “peela jarda, baba patti…..” etc etc…
“Thoda supari aur dijiye”, “chuna dijiye..” etc etc…. would be asked with the fervor of discussion picking up.

Discussions would continue after short interventions. Motorcycles, bicycles, four wheelers would be zig-zaggedly parked. Interestingly, all through the long discussion none of the interlocutors would introduce themselves or seek introduction. Their contact would remain limited to this paan gumti.

In case one is not in consonance with others view, he would comment “Kahe Bhokaal deyat ho!” an interesting way of showing disagreement, to ascertain that the other one is bluffing.

“24th show of BJP was staged. People were hired!”- One view.
Counter view- “It is not possible to collect people of that magnitude. If BJP can buy people then why not Congress, which has more money for having ruled for ten years.”

Suddenly, after roadshow the comment was, “How can both parties, BJP and Congress, garner so much support for roadshow? Certainly they imported supporters from outside to show their strength."
“I don’t mind the vulgar road show. What interests me is that business has shot up this season.” This economization of politics.

“BSP and SP have become insignificant in this election in Varanasi,” was categorical statement for a shift from BJP vs Congress discussion.
“They have fielded their weakest candidates,” was another statement on these two regional parties.
Then there would be long discussions on fixing. “To give Dimple a cakewalk, BJP fielded poor candidate in her constituency. In turn SP is not interested in posing any challenge in Varanasi.”

Traveling in crowded Varanasi gave a first hand feel of excitement and enthusiasm and the paan politics is giving me pleasure of gossip.