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Eyes on UP prize, Narendra Modi set for Varanasi
The BJP’s central election committee is all set to announce on Saturday that the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will contest the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi, ending the suspense over his choice of seat after veteran leader Murli Manohar Joshi indicated his reluctance to vacate the constituency for the Gujarat chief minister.
The party is also expected to declare that its president Rajnath Singh will be the candidate from the prestigious Lucknow constituency, once represented by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Party sources said Joshi may be fielded from Kanpur and former UP unit chief Kalraj Mishra, who was eyeing Kanpur, could be offered Shravasti or Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh.
Sources said this formula was arrived after a marathon meeting Friday about the party’s candidates from Uttar Pradesh. The meeting was attended by general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, Amit Shah, general secretary (organisation) Ramlal, top state leaders and Rajnath Singh.
Shah and Ramlal had also held talks Wednesday with RSS leaders Suresh Soni and Krishna Gopal over UP candidates.
The BJP’s UP unit, under the guidance of Modi aide Amit Shah, has been keen to field Modi from the temple town to maximise the party’s electoral prospects in the politically crucial state.
Although Varanasi cannot be considered a “safe seat” for the BJP given its performance in the last two polls, it has symbolic significance.
“It would demonstrate a commitment towards symbols of Hindutva to the party’s core voters even as Modi seeks a wider mandate on the basis of his development agenda,” a senior central party functionary said.
While Modi has avoided the Ram Temple and other Hindutva issues, he mentioned “Ram Rajya” during a public speech in Varanasi.
Since the BJP’s rise on the back of its Ram Temple movement, the party won the Varanasi seat consistently since 1991 until the streak was broken by the Congress in 2004. But Joshi wrested it back in 2009.
Besides symbolism, party leaders also have clear electoral calculations for wanting to field Modi from Varanasi.
While the party hopes to benefit from the polarisation in western Uttar Pradesh in the wake of the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar last year, it needs another booster in the eastern parts, the leaders feel.
“Modi’s candidature from eastern Uttar Pradesh will provoke Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP to rally their Muslim support base. That, in turn, may lead to polarisation of other communities towards the BJP,” said another leader from UP.
The fact that Varanasi has twice been hit by terror blasts in 2006 and 2010, as well as its proximity to Azamgarh, alleged to be home to some of those accused in terror cases, may also come into play.
Interestingly, Joshi’s posters for campaigning in Varanasi mention the blasts in the temple town.
Central party leaders also claim that Modi’s candidature from eastern Uttar Pradesh will have a ripple effect in neighbouring Bihar, at least in the western Bihar constituencies, and that Modi’s OBC background is likely to overshadow backward caste regional satraps. They feel Modi’s candidature from Varanasi may provide an “upswing in about 24 seats in eastern UP”.
With eastern UP one of the most backward regions of Uttar Pradesh, the electorate of the region will be more than enthusiastic to vote for a potential Prime Minister, party leaders reason.
However, state leaders indicated that Modi’s candidature from Varanasi will prove to be an advantage only if he contests from that one seat and not opt for a second elsewhere, most likely Gujarat.
“We are given to understand that he will contest only from Varanasi. It could be a dampner if he contests from another seat, even in Gujarat, as the opposition will confuse voters by claiming that Modi could give up the seat after getting elected,” said one leader involved in the state’s election management.
Some leaders also felt that while Modi would win Varanasi, he would not have an as easy time as in Gujarat as the opposition would come together and force him to work for his own victory.