UP elections 2017: Many threads of thoughts for March 8 in Varanasi bylanes
Maurya weavers are strongly with BJP, and say the Modi government’s promise of giving more powerlooms to the state was encouraging.
Business life seems normal for traders and weavers in Kachori Gali and chowk in Varanasi as they make deals for weaving casually in these lanes — with traders producing designs, and weavers, mostly Ansaris from the Muslim community and Mauryas from the Hindu community, vying for the orders. But everybody has several issues weighing on their mind as the ancient city prepares to vote on Wednesday.
While most traders back the BJP, weavers are divided between the SP, BSP and even the BJP.
“The reason for us supporting BJP is also because there is a hope the party will bring in economic reforms,” said Mukesh Kakkad, a silk trader in Kachori Gali. “Banarasi saree ka fayda Banarasiyon ko hi nahi hota. All our best sarees go to south or Kolkata, because that is where there are sold in high prices,” he said.
Varanasi is the only place in the vicinity where pure silk sarees are made on handlooms, while in Ghosi, Mau, Sarnath and Ghazipur, weavers use powerlooms to churn out low-cost silk sarees. Kakkad explained that there could be pure silk (katan), organza (kora) with zari and silk, georgette and shattir that come out of Varanasi.
Only in Varanasi would one find skilled workers who can make ‘patras’ (motifs) well, he said. Many of the Hindu families involved in making Banarasi sarees are migrants from other states, mostly Gujarat and Punjab, and even refugees from Pakistan who have settled in the city for several generations.
Rajendra Jaiswal, a thread trader here, said, “When it comes to voting, it is choice between a government that doesn’t bother when traders get killed over extortion and a government that is making tough decisions such as sending us tax notices. Par hum mann se bhajpa (BJP) se judey hue hai.”
In the last few months, the RSS under the aegis of Swadeshi Jagran Manch has held meetings with traders of Banarasi silk in Varanasi, urging them not to buy Chinese silk as part of a movement to promote the country’s economy.
The world of weavers is different from that of traders. In places such as Kazzakgunj or Hukulgunj, a loom sits at the very entrance with resham threads running through the machine.
Here is where the zari threads are flattened thin metallic strips are drawn from gold alloys, after which delicate strips are then wound around silk yarns and then passed through a brightener.
“It won’t be surprising if the everyone involved in weaving votes along religious lines,” Jaiswal said. “Some of the Muslim traders have done well here which haven’t gone down well with the Hindus,” he said. Ahmed Ansari, a skilled bunkar here, said the last two powerlooms were gifted to them by Mayawati and hence, many Muslims feel indebted to her.
“But it is a crucial election for us. We will go for whoever ensures more safety and opportunities for us,” he said. Those supporting SP say CM Akhilesh Yadav gave them a marketing centre where allotment of shops to weavers is underway.
But Maurya weavers are strongly with BJP, and say the Modi government’s promise of giving more powerlooms to the state was encouraging. There are several Muslim Shia traders, too, in Varanasi.
Both weavers and traders have been hurt by demonetisation. But there is a feeling that the move hurt the Muslim community more, which might polarise the community. Fakir Ahmad, a local businessman who has many weavers working for him in Varanasi, said the daily wagers had been particularly hit hard with demonetisation.
He said the city used to annually do a business of about `60 crore, which had declined almost 40% after November 8. “This election we also see the Hindu weavers Mauryas strongly supporting the BJP. This has made the Ansaris think. They don’t want to commit any mistake,” Ahmad said. Muslims, who comprise 20% of the population in Varanasi appear to back the SPCongress alliance, though many admit at least two BSP candidates are good.
A split in Muslims’ ranks in 2012 is considered a major reason behind BJP’s win in three assembly seats in the city. Even this time the battle for Muslim weavers’ votes seems to have turned into ‘Bunkar versus Mukhtar’. Mafia don turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, who is contesting in BSP ticket in Mau constituency is taking on SP’s Altaf Ansari, a weaver himself.