Published On: Mon, May 13th, 2024
World | 4,970 views

I stood on at the frontline of India’s £11bn election | World | News


“Chalo Benares” from a searingly hot 39C Varanasi, the oldest living city in the world. 

India’s incredible 44-day billion-ballot 2024 Lok Sabha elections have seen an eye-watering £11.4billion spent on campaigning.  

It is the fourth voting phase out of seven and citizens across the nation are being urged to “do their democratic duty” by both celebrities and ordinary people. 

We made our way to Varanasi within hours of touching down in Delhi to witness a rally-come-roadshow where thousands lined the streets to cheer their local MP — who just happens to be the Prime Minister of the world’s biggest democracy.

READ MORE: 50 Indians are being lifted into prosperity every 60 seconds – here is how

Narendra Modi, 73, leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was warming up his constituents ahead of formally submitting his nomination papers on Tuesday. 

To reach the event, we jetted via a direct internal flight on Vistara Airways to Varanasi — known locally as “Benares”, and also “Kashi” – its Sanskrit name meaning “City of Light”.

As we landed at our destination in Uttar Pradesh state the flight attendant even urged passengers to get out and vote over the tannoy.

Posters of a famous IPL cricketer and Bollywood actor adorned the airport arrivals hall producing a tangible sense that democracy was in the air. 

Once the sick man of India, Uttar Pradesh has witnessed a total transformation in just the last decade.

And you can feel it on the streets — there is an overwhelming sense that this a New India on the rise.

Roads that would be the envy of Britain (not a single pothole in sight!) have sprung up all over the region. 

And it is something its inhabitants are grateful for. 

Speaking to the Daily Express from a family-run photo studio, akin to a UK Snappy Snaps, Anita Aggrawal, 30, a paediatric dietitian, said she was “very happy” with Modi as a native Benarsi because she believes he has done a huge amount for the local area.

She listed his achievements such as increasing tourism in the area by restoring it to its former glory, rolling out infrastructure projects and increasing safety for women on the streets. 

Ms Aggrawal, who was holding her three-year-son Ashwik in her arms, said she wanted Modi to return as PM because of the many projects he has already committed to in the pipeline concerning development of roads and hospitals. 

The food counsellor also pointed to a restoration of the region’s shared cultural values as another reason for her support. 

She said: “We feel very proud that he has helped this region rediscover its civilisational heritage.”

It was a message we heard time and again, with a law student at Benares Hindu University Ashwini Tiwari, 25, saying Modi was “helping to reclaim our civilisation and rediscover our lost heritage”. 

Ms Aggrawal’s mother Anugagrawan Aggrawal, 62, said Modi had empowered women and “turned them into fighter pilots”.

She also pointed to a recently established helpline for women which has meant they feel safe to venture out alone at night.

She said: “Modi used to be stopped from entering the US. Now, all the world leaders are coming to visit him!” 

And she nodded with a laugh when asked if India was on the up. 

Ms Aggrawal’s views were also echoed by hairdresser Ashish Sharma, 21, who said he was “very excited” to be here to support Modi.

He also cited roads, infrastructure, economic development and “helping poor people” as key reasons that he was backing Modi in the election.

Shouts of “This time more than 400!” rang through the 4km-long procession route – a reference to the number of seats the ruling BJP is hoping to win in this epic contest.

Everyone we spoke to on the ground at the rally and away from the action on the river bank seemed to have a genuine reason to want to see Modi return for a third term in office. 

The turnaround from the event was also impressive, with the pedestrianised area of the rally back to its usual hustle and bustle within hours. 

Streets were virtually fully clean again and free enterprise was flowing with floating diya flowers being sold by children and elderly people alike for the iconic fire veneration ceremony, a nightly dedication to river goddess Mata Ganga on the banks of the Ganges.

As we drove away from the campaign event, signs and billboards were being hastily packed away and some locals were even having a go standing on Modi’s platform. 

Leaving Benares we were approached by a lone chaiwallah – a street vendor of the nation’s favourite hot, spiced drink – who made clear he wanted Modi back running the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

After all, the PM started life as a chaiwallah, himself. 



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