Before the secular dip, hold your nose

May 12 2014, 08:03 IST
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SummaryWhere the Gangs of Poorvanchal have come together to fight communal forces.

Because this is Varanasi. Where the Gangs of Poorvanchal have come together to fight communal forces. Where a firebrand radical isnt pleased they threw eggs at his rudraksh. Where, delightfully, Guptaji shows off his fish and chicken fry and Brahmins cant wait to give India its first OBC prime minister

Having made only four really short visits as a reporter to Varanasi, spread over almost four decades, I cant be so pretentious as to promise a definitive political profile of a city that defies adjectives but is, in its very own way, both the finest and most embarrassing embodiment of Indias diversity.

Think, to begin with, of the stories that brought me here on these four occasions. First, in 1983, to cover a never-ending strike at Banaras Hindu University. The university may have been shut but I returned a sophomore, if not a graduate yet, in caste politics. All this is not academic. It is about caste here, said young BHU leader Shatrudra Prakash and then gave me the mantra: Brahmin, Thakur, Bhumihar, eastern UP, western Bihar. I am happy to report that Prakash has done quite well in politics meanwhile. He is a formidable talking head for Mulayam Singh Yadavs Samajwadi Party (SP) on Hindi news channels, and has even served as a cabinet minister in Lucknow. Of course, he has found greater fame recently, when the police in Gomti Nagar, Lucknows equivalent of Delhis Lutyens, found in his official residence two cars with exactly the same number plate. Maybe he loved that number or probably because of numerological compulsions, both had the vanity plate of UP-65-AA-9999. Curiouser still, both cars apparently had security stickers for the state assembly and the chief ministers residence. But both cars were rather modest, an Innova and a lowly Maruti Zen. A real socialist, still.

The second visit was in the summer of 1991, following Rajiv Gandhis campaign trail from Bihar via Buxar and Ghosi, from where the Congress partys two funniest court jesters then contested, K.K. Tiwari (professor of English, he called V.P. Singh Brutus in Lok Sabha and later played a stellar role in hatching the failed St Kitts conspiracy to malign him) and Kalpnath Rai, who made his fame with that immortal pitch for his leader to Nutan Manmohan, then reporter for Madhu Trehans video magazine Newstrack: Rajiv Gandhi is a daeemond, daeemond (cupping his palms as if holding that diamond), dont

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