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How Narendra Modi won over Benares greats

On nomination day, Modi, master of symbolic gestures, touched Chhanulal Mishra's feet, made him sit as he stood.

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Updated: May 02, 2014, 12.51 PM IST
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On nomination day, Modi, master of symbolic gestures, touched Chhanulal Mishra's feet, made him sit as he stood.  
On nomination day, Modi, master of symbolic gestures, touched Chhanulal Mishra's feet, made him sit as he stood.  
(This story originally appeared in on May 02, 2014)
VARANASI: House number 60-61 at Chhoti Gaibi sits in a twisted sub-lane off Sigra. It's late in the evening and Chhanulal Mishra is holding court. A disciple has brought along some BJP workers who want to talk to the maestro and get photographed with him.

Mishra's house has always been a beehive of activity. But the past few days have been different. Till recently, this doyen of Hindustani classical music, probably last of the Banaras greats, never made a political distinction, mixing with netas of all hues. Six months ago he shared the stage with Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Then Amit Shah happened. In a plan where every move is meant to signify something, Varanasi's mayor Ram Gopal Mohle contacted Mishra and requested him to propose Modi's name in his nomination form. Shah called later, Modi followed. Mishra melted, forgetting momentarily how his assent would be viewed.

After all, the maestro's music exemplifies the best secular traditions of classical music learnt at the feet of Abdul Ghani Khan of Kirana Gharana, his father Badri Prasad Mishra and another great, Thakur Jaidev Singh. It is these influences that have made him a rare vocalist comfortable with multiple schools of music - the Patiala grammar, purab and Gaya styles of singing.

When Modi fi rst visited Varanasi, Mishra was taken to him. Admirer turned into bhakt. Now Mishra thinks the slogan Har Har Modi was wrongly attacked. "What is wrong? It only means someone who will take away our worries. Isn't Modi expected to do that," he asks.

On nomination day, Modi, master of symbolic gestures, touched Mishra's feet, made him sit as he stood. "I realized the man isn't arrogant but has self-pride," he says, bursting into a bandish (composition) to bolster his argument.

Mishra laid down two conditions for Modi. Ganga should be cleaned in 78-year-old Mishra's lifetime and a centre to preserve and propagate the musical traditions of Varanasi be set up. "He has agreed." What about the allegations against Modi?

"I don't know anyone's past or future. I became Modi's admirer because of his behaviour," Mishra says. As if on cue he adds, "Had Mulayam called, I'd have gone with him. I know Kejriwal is regretting." Modi's men had to work harder for Justice Giridhar Malviya's endorsement. Not that he had any questions but he was an Allahabad voter. The party got Malviya registered as a voter in Varanasi, where he has a house. Shah called fi rst and then Modi, enquiring about Malviya's cataract surgery.

Grandson of Madan Mohan Malviya, fountainhead of Hindu nationalism, Giridhar now chants NaMo. What about Modi's role in 2002 riots? For a man who retired as an HC judge, Malviya has a simple solution, "It's not an issue. CM and PM shouldn't be implicated in riots. How can they get involved? Judge them on how quickly they contained the violence. Gujarat was peaceful in three days."

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