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Banaras Diary

Intellectuals from around India flock to Varanasi to join campaign against Modi

However, they aren't certain which candidate to support.

Arjun was unhappy. He had just agreed vehemently with the people marching past him down Varanasi’s Sant Kabir Road, around the corner from the poet-saint’s shrine. He had grabbed a copy of a pamphlet with anti-communal propaganda that was being handed out and promptly nodded along when the marchers sang the Leftist anthem, Tu Zinda Hai. Arjun even added his voice to the chants of "fasiwadi murdabad" (down with the fascists). But his question to the crowd went unanswered.

“I don’t understand what the whole point of this is if they can’t give me one name of someone who can defeat Modi,” Arjun said.

Indeed, for a crowd full of intellectuals who don’t usually have difficulty giving answers — from economist Jean Dreze to civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad and filmmaker Anusha Rizvi — that one query hung over the group like a dark cloud: “Who can defeat Narendra Modi?”

By choosing to contest from Varanasi, which holds primary position in the pantheon of Hindu holy places, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate was tapping into strains of religious tradition as well as political ones that draw from Uttar Pradesh’s history.

But for those opposed to him, Varanasi has also become the site of something of a final stand, both because the elections here take place on the very last day of the month-long exercise and also because Modi's critics hope to draw from the city’s history of pluralistic leaders.

Earlier in the day, the intellectuals had traipsed into Kabir Chaura Mutt, the temple-complex that was built on the site where the 15th century saint would lecture the residents of Kashi on the need to break free of dogma. Most of the visitors were in Varanasi at the behest of the local unit of the Progressive Writers’ Association, founded by radical Urdu writers in Lucknow in the 1930s.

But their day-long discussions around the statues of Kabir that dot the Mutt focused more on why Modi ought to be defeated than on who might be able to do it. “Kashi may have helped grow Hinduism, but it has never supported Hindutva,” said Kashinath Singh, the star attraction at the convention. His book Kashi ka Assi paints a portrait of the ordinary people who populate the holy city. “A win for Modi will mean a historic defeat for the city of Kashi," he said.

From references to fascism and Nazis to a nukkad natak (street play), albeit one that was taking place within the complex, the convention featured all the mainstays of radical campaigns — except an appeal on behalf of a specific candidate.

The problem isn’t the lack of an option, it’s that there are too many. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party both have candidates in the fray who have vowed to defeat Modi, but the real contenders remain the Congress’ local man Ajay Rai and the Aam Aadmi Party’s head and ex-Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

If all the voters opposed to Modi pick any one of the two, there would be a serious chance of the BJP losing the seat. But as long as they remain divided, the BJP’s workers are taking bets on how big Modi’s winning margin will be rather than whether he will take home the crown.

Participants at the convention had deliberately chosen not to tell people whom to vote for, a decision civil rights activist Setalvad defended. “It’s a tricky situation, with a multi-cornered contest,” she said. “If the politicians here can’t decide how to go about it, why are you expecting intellectuals to do that? It’s not for a platform like this to decide who should be picked.”

But the lack of consensus even within a group of activists who have flocked to Varanasi from across the country just to campaign against Modi is telling.

“I get the feeling that people are coming together in support of Arvind Kejriwal,” said Akbar Chawdhury, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union. “Consensus seems to be building.”

Others thought that endoring the Congress would be inevitable.

Across the city, the political discussions have now turned to who is fighting to be number two, with Modi as the frontrunner. Most of those who want to keep him out are pinning their hopes on the tradition of tactical voting: a community-wide decision in the last few days about which candidate to support as a means of ensuring there is no split. The NoMore campaign, which aims to present this decision ahead of each voting day, is expected to release its preferred candidate sometime mid-week.

“The people of Banaras will see who is the strongest, who is the most likely to beat Narendra Modi and they will vote for him,” said Sanjay Srivastava, one of the convention’s organisers. “You will see, just as there might be a Modi wave, there is an anti-Modi wave and that will become apparent right before the election. One person will picked, and the people of Banaras will choose him.”

The crux remains Varanasi’s three lakh Muslim voters, and both Kejriwal and Rai have focused their last few days of campaigning on this community. With just a few days, until the election on May 12, there is little sign of which way that decision will go — or indeed whether it will be made at all.

Back at the Kabir Mutt, the anti-Modi convention was drawing to a close with a Dastangoi performance that was eventually drowned out by the sounds of a Zee News crew setting up a stage with a pretend paanwala for a Banarasi political debate.

“The local organisers have told us that, even though we haven’t picked one person or we haven’t campaigned outside much, having all of us together in one place is worrying the BJP,” said Reetika Khera, a professor from IIT-Delhi, as the convention was coming to a close. “But I think they’re just saying that to keep us happy.”
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As corporate India changes from strait-jacketed to stylish, here’s how you can stay on-trend

For men and women, tips to make your office style game strong.

Office wear in India tends to be conservative. For men, the staple blue or white shirt and dark trouser arranged in a monotonous assembly line has been a permanent feature of the wardrobe (a tactic shrewdly administered to ensure minimum time is spent shopping). For women, androgynous work wear has been ever reliable and just as dull.

But camouflage is of no use in the corporate jungle anymore. The Indian office is no longer a place for dull, unthinking conformity, it is a place that expects vibrancy in thought and action. With a younger workforce and a greater mix of multinationals and jobs, there is a greater acceptance of edgier trends. Men are stepping away from their blues and greys and women are reshaping their workwear to be more interesting and distinctly feminine. As corporate India is proving its mettle on the global stage and to itself, it’s also growing confident in expressing individuality and style in the formal work environment. From clothing to office décor and fashion accessories to work tools, the workplace is becoming a place to display merit as well as taste.

Work clothes have shed their monochrome and moved into the light of technicolor. Bright colours have steadily become popular as Pantone’s annual colours of the year show us. For the corporate warrior who wants to be stylish here is our pick of trends worth considering.


Statement jacket. A statement jacket is one that doesn’t merely stand out in a crowd, but blows it open for you. How do you recognize one? You’ll know it when you see it. Most statement jackets have a non-traditional color. They could also have subtle prints on them if you want to go funky.

Technicolor socks. Multicolored socks (or hipster socks as they are known in some quarters) peek out every once in a while and brighten things up in the workplace. From polka dots and caricatures to geometric patterns, you can choose a pair to suit your mood or your workplace. A great way of telling people you don’t take fashion rules seriously (except these ones).

Plaid: Well played is well, plaid. Great for your 9-to-5 and even performs well after. Plaids, in shirts and jackets, are perhaps the most versatile tool in the corporate warrior’s armory, and straddle the fine line between formal and casual effectively. They’re also age-resistant meaning a young buck in his twenties can rock them as much as your seasoned forty-plus campaigner. Plaid, though Scottish in origin, has an Indian connection too, in the Madras checks that became popular all over the world after the World War.

Inside collars and cuffs. If you like to keep it classy but still a little edgy, nothing does it like contrast or printed insides of your collar and cuffs. After the work day, when it’s proper to roll up your sleeves, it even adds a touch of evening character.

Coloured Shoes. Alternate your staid blacks and browns with variants like burgundy, light buttery browns and ashen blues. Play with moccasins, tassel loafers and lace-ups. Go beyond leather and try suede and maybe even canvas. But do remember to take a quick course in matching.


Floral prints. Flowers are back (though one could argue that they never went out) and now they’re storming the bastion of your office. Even the traditional Indian paisley is making its way into formal wear. With the prevalence of digital printing, with a little hunting, you’ll even find beautiful florals in watercolour style.

Scarves. The first rule of wearing scarves is to rid yourself of the notion that they are to be worn only in winter. A colourful scarf paired with a monochrome top works wonders. A dozen online videos will teach you to wear it in a dozen ways. Plus, it always comes in handy when the thermostat isn’t to your liking. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw wears scarves frequently, and is a great example of how you can use it strikingly.

Pants. Yes. Pants. Experiment with different styles and you’ll be surprised how they can really spruce up a boring look. Silhouette is everything when it comes to pants. Choose from high-waisted, wide legged, pleated to ankle length pants and what not! The best part is offices rarely prescribe silhouettes, so you can always get by with some style even if your workplace demands a uniform.

Houndstooth. The houndstooth pattern is at the sweet intersection between casual and formal and can be worn to make a splash in either occasion. Whether its jackets or a dress or a simple top, a houndstooth pattern is incredibly versatile.

Chic suits. A sharp suit is a must for a modern professional’s wardrobe. And please don’t even look in the direction of black. Pastel colours or even greys with patterns are great options for suits. Uncoordinated suits are also a great option depending on how edgy you want your office attire to be.


It isn’t enough to be well-dressed in the modern workplace. A good professional is known by his or her tools and how they carry it.

Designer laptop sleeves. Your high-precision instrument deserves a cover chosen with as much care. Black Neoprene is out. Pastel monochromes, geometric patterns and bold designs are very much in. Different materials like cotton, leather and even paper are a great option.

Natural fiber or leather bags (yes kill your black synthetic one now). Briefcases are ancient and black messenger bags are done. Go for a color variant or a subtle pattern. Pay attention to the different leather finishes. Adding a few nicely done metal trims can make all the difference. But convenience and ease are top priority. If you travel a lot, get a stylish strolley and thank yourself later.

Commute pack. The urban corporate needs to be productive at all times, or at the very least, needs to be accessible. A modern commute pack should include wireless headphones, a USB battery pack (power bank) and a wire/gadget organisation pack just so that you’re always prepared.

Machine. We’ve all showed off our latest smartphones. Your work machine is way more important. And like in smartphones, a good laptop is no longer only about performance. The specifications must be top-notch but it has also become an expression of your personality. It can up your style quotient and significantly impact your experience.

Source: Dell
Source: Dell

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Dell and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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