Bhagwa Flags, Lord Ram And PM Modi Dominate Election Campaigning In Nagpur

The first phase of voting begins in Nagpur on April 19, but the city of Maharashtra is devoid of election banners or hoardings of major political parties' leaders.

Photo by: Dinesh Parab/Outlook
PM Modi's Hoardings in Nagpur ahead of elections. Photo by: Dinesh Parab/Outlook

At the busy intersection of the Mahal chowk in Nagpur city, a life-size replica of Ram Lalla's idol stands alongside the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Commuters and passersby stop to adore the standing idol of infant Ram, some seek blessings, some selfies. Surrounded by a mosque, a temple and construction site of a commercial mall, and hordes of hawkers, the junction is buzzing with Muslim families out for Eid celebrations and shoppers buying clothes, shoes and bags. Yellow fairy lights hang on both sides of the streets and saffron flags are hoisted atop every commercial structure and shops.

The first phase of voting begins in Nagpur on April 19, but the city of Maharashtra is devoid of election banners or hoardings of major political parties' leaders. Nagpur is instead seeped in saffron shades and tableaus of lord Ram. Saffron coloured flags of Lord Ram or Jai Shri Ram and pennant banners ahead of the Ram Navmi festivity on April 17.

“We celebrate Ram Navami on a large scale, but this is the first time there are such big idols and tableaus ten days before the festival,” Parag Goyal remarked. Mahal area and the neighbouring Reshimbaug are the political pilgrim centers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Sangh’s headquarters, its training center and its founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar’s birthplace as well as union minister and BJP MP Nitin Gadkari’s residence are all located within a 2 km radius. Saffron flags, hoisted around the time of Ram temple’s inauguration, still hang outside every door and balcony of residential houses and shops. And at every little distance, tableaus of lord Ram are set up by enthusiastic Sangh supporters, majority of whom are BJP supporters.

Ram Mandir’s inauguration in January, was a milestone achievement for the Sangh and was borne out of its long and contentious communal, legal and political battle against the Muslim communities. “The Pran Pratistha ceremony has added josh in this year’s celebrations,” says Gauri Abhinay Muthmari.

Traditionally, Nagpur celebrates birth of lord Ram with pooja, and processions called Shobha Yatras that are carried across the city by youngsters, women and children. But the festival’s clash with the Lok Sabha elections, has presented a perfect opportunity for the BJP to place Ram and the Ram temple as part of their campaigning strategy.

At BJP’s rally in Ramtek constituency on April 11, PM Modi was welcomed by the crowd with the chants of Jai Shri Ram. “Our Ram Tek is that place which has lord Ram’s footprints. This Ram Navmi, our lord Ram will not be in a tent in Ayodhya, but he gives darshan in a grand temple,” Modi said amidst thundering applause and hoots of whistles. “This blessing has come after 500 years, and the entire country and Ram Tek is joyous. But do not forget, when the time for Pran Pratistha, the INDI alliance condemned it, rejected the invitation. These people attack Sanatan (religion), they vow to wipe out Sanatan belief.”

Lord Ram and Ram temple was mentioned as one of the key achievements of the BJP government’s five year in power by chief minister Eknath Shinde, deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and other BJP leaders in their speeches at the rally.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath promised voters at a rally on April 9, that all arrangements will be made in Ayodhya when they will come to visit the temple. “You all cast your vote on the lotus symbol and make Gadkari win by a massive slide and keep the momentum of the country’s development.”

BJP candidate Nitin Gadkari and his opponent Congress leader Vikas Thakre have stayed away from seeking votes by displaying political posters. Two-time MP, Gadkari’s popularity is ubiquitous in Nagpur. He is widely respected by the masses and political rivals and is clearly Vidarbha region’s favorite political leader. Gadkari’s name and work is enough, he doesn’t need to campaign, BJP workers said. He is credited for not just elevating Nagpur’s political stature but also transforming the city’s transport and roadways infrastructure during his tenure. The city has minimal traffic and is blessed with envious quality of CC roads, wide footpaths and four lines of metro cutting across the city and connecting its extended townships.

Thakre, MLA from West Nagpur and former mayor and corporator has a strong local connect and is known for his work at the ground level. He too believes letting his work speak. In Amebedkar nagar and Dalit vastis, Bahujan Samajwadi Party leader Yogesh Lanjewar, has put up few hoardings. On Thursday, BSP chief Mayawati held her first rally in Indora, gaining momentum for his campaign.

The only political figure whose large size hoardings declaring Phir ek baar Modi Sarkar and abki baar 400 paar is of BJP leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Donning Peshwa pagdi and bamboo hat, Modi’s hoardings are displayed at prominent traffic junctions, roundabouts and main streets.

Elsewhere, in the city, only the saffron flags visibly stand out against the unseasonal grey skies, and in the political speeches and rallies, chants of lord Ram.