If it is the RSS cadre who are working silently for the BJP here, for the SP-Congress alliance it is the non-political volunteers who have fanned out across the city with the ‘Phir Sey Akhilesh’ message. Thousands of volunteers, including young women are campaigning for the alliance, wearing specially designed T-shirts embossed with the slogans ‘Phir Sey Akhilesh’ and ‘UP ko yeh saath pasand hai’. To pick up the volunteers, ground mobilisation started on February 14 while the special “Chalo Kashi” campaign was launched online on March 1 where interns interested in working in Varanasi and supporting the RG-AY signed up to campaign for one week, a strategist in the Prashant Kishor team said.
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A form was given out in which people filled up their name, numbers and choice of assembly constituency and were assigned campaign duties which included staging street plays and a door-to-door campaign. The team mobilised the youth in IIT-BHU and other local institutes by speaking about the campaign and the situation in Varanasi. Most of the volunteers are young educated professionals and students from the universities and villages who had voted for Modi three years ago and were “disappointed” with his performance and there are many others who are “impressed” with Akhilesh Yadav’s vision of development and the works undertaken by him in his five years in power, he said.
This is one of the many efforts to ensure that young voters also take active part to get a first hand experience of running an election campaign. As of now, 5,000 volunteers from across the country including large number of students of IIT-BHU are helping digitally and on the ground with the campaign. Elaborating on how the team is going about in the campaign at the ground level, he said the “chaiwallas” and “paanwallahs” of this region are being used actively for the ‘Phir Se Akhilesh’ campaign with an aim of outdoing the “chaiwallah” campaign of the prime minister in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The chaiwallas and paanwallas are seen sporting the ‘Phir Se Akhilesh’ and ‘UP Ko Yeh Saath Pasand Hai’ T-shirts to project a popular image of the alliance. Volunteers from the IIT-BHU are reaching out to tea vendors and others across the region and mobilising their support for the alliance. A 30-second video that says ‘main Banaras ka chaiwalla hoon aur mera saath Akhilesh-Rahul ke gatbandhan ko hai’ (I am a tea seller of Varanasi and I support the Akhilesh-Rahul alliance) is being shared on digital platforms and for the on ground campaign.
There is a special thrust on wooing the women electorate. “In UP, where women are assumed to be voting as per the family diktats, young women are playing an active role in the campaigning by volunteering for Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav’s door-to-door campaign,” he said. In the villages and city spaces of Varanasi you will find women volunteers heading door-to-door, seeking support for the alliance.
Around 50 women volunteers per assembly segment are carrying the message of the chief ministerial candidate, Akhilesh Yadav. They also carry with them the 16 key points of the alliance in the form of a calendar. “To make their request a more personalised one, they visit each home introducing themselves as having come from ‘Akhileshji’s place’ and state that they have brought a letter from the chief minister for them,” he stressed.
The alliance’s campaign is centred around highlighting the “failed promises” of the prime minister and hope that it will pay off for the Rahul-Akhilesh team on all the eight assembly seats in Varanasi which is a matter of prestige for the BJP, being Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency. The alliance has also prepared a video ‘Dard-e Banaras’ to target the alleged lack of development in this high-profile constituency which is based on interviews of the locals on the performance of their MP in the last three years.
It shows Narendra Modi and his promises like cleaning of Ganga and cleanliness of Varanasi and the locals’ views. The video goes on to show the state of River Ganga, the filth on the roads and basic amenities in this historical and religious city. These videos are played on campaign raths or video vans plying around Kashi. It is also used heavily on Facebook and Whatsapp groups in Varanasi and surrounding areas. The two-minute videos have reached over 2,00,000 people in and around Varanasi.
“Two sons of Uttar Pradesh have brought the entire central government on the roads of Varanasi and this is a proof of whether it is the wave of BJP here or the fear of alliance,” he sums it up. Voting will take place in the area on March 8 in the final phase of polling. Counting is set for March 11.