Uttar Pradesh elections 2017: On closing day, BJP takes Varanasi test

In assembly seats across PM’s parliamentary constituency, his party grapples with strong opposition, upset workers and rebels

Written by Lalmani Verma | Varanasi | Published: March 8, 2017 4:06 am
Poll officials wait to leave for election duty in Varanasi. PTI

In Varanasi, showpiece of the last phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the BJP finds itself facing a number of challenges — a tough contest against Samajwadi Party-Congress candidates, dissatisfaction among some leaders over ticket distribution, and the fact that the results will be associated with prestige in the prime minister’s constituency. Narendra Modi and a number of Union ministers focused on Varanasi in the last three days of the campaign. The Lok Sabha constituency has five segments while Varanasi district includes three more assembly seats, these part of Machhlishahr Lok Sabha constituency.

5 seats in Varanasi (LS)

In Varanasi North, sitting BJP MLA Ravindra Jaiswal is facing not only SP-Congress and BSP candidates but also BJP rebels Sujeet Singh Teeka and Dr Ashok Singh, contesting as independents. Teeka, state general secretary of the BJP Kisan Morcha, is upset for being denied the ticket in successive elections.

Out of 3 lakh voters, around 70,000 are Muslims followed by Thakurs and OBCs. The number of Muslim voters is another cause of concern for the BJP. In 2012, Abdul Samad of the SP and Rabiya Kalam of the Congress ended up dividing the Muslim vote; this time Samad is the SP-Congress candidate and also the only prominent Muslim in the fray.

“If the votes of the SP and Congress candidates in 2012 are added, the total exceeds the BJP candidate’s tally,” said a BJP supporter. The BSP has fielded an OBC, Sujeet Kumar Maurya, runner-up in the last election.

In Varanasi South, the BJP’s Shyamdev Rao Chaudhary had won seven consecutive elections but the party has replaced him with a young leader, Neelkanth Tiwari. The BJP camp here has two worries.

First, Chaudhary has refused to support the BJP candidate arguing that he was not taken in confidence before being denied the ticket. Worried about the message going out to the public, BJP president Amit Shah met Chaudhary in Lucknow and later announced the party will get him elected to the UP Legislative Council. Eventually, the PM intervened and had Chaudhary accompany him while offering prayers at Kashi Vishwanath temple Saturday. In the evening, he invited Chaudhary to a public meeting the same evening and offered him the seat next to him.

The other worry for the BJP in Varanasi South is that three prominent Brahmin leaders are contesting — BJP, BSP and SP-Congress. Varanasi South is dominated by Muslims and Brahmins. In 2012, there were seven Muslim candidates. In the current election, no prominent party has fielded a Muslim.

Mohammad Zubair, near Manikarnika Ghat, said he could see a triangular contest between the BSP, the BJP and the Congress, and felt Muslims would consolidate towards either the SP-Congress or the BSP.

The Congress has fielded former MP Rajesh Mishra, the BSP Rakesh Tripathi.

Varanasi South has around 90,000 Muslim voters. “The BJP needs to consolidate all Brahmins and backward voters as Hindus voters to get their support for Tiwari,” said Paresh Mishra, who lives near Muslim-dominated Madanpura.

In Varanasi Cantonment, the BJP has fielded Saurabh Srivastava, son of sitting party MLA Jyotsana Srivastava. Muslim and Kayastha voters are dominant here. The Congress has fielded Anil Srivastava who was runner-up in 2012. The BSP has fielded Rijwan Ahmed. The Ittehad-E-Millait Council too is in the fray.

When Saurabh was declared candidate, a section of BJP workers had opposed the decision calling it dynastic politics. Jyotsana has been MLA from the seat for two consecutive terms. The party had fielded her following the death of her husband Harish Chandra Srivastva, MLA from her for three terms.

In Rohaniya, the PM addressed his last public meeting Monday. Minister of State Anupriya Patel (Apna Dal) was elected from this seat in 2012 but she vacated the seat after her election to the Lok Sabha in 2014. Her mother Krishna Patel lost in the assembly byelection. Anurpiya has since split with her mother, forming the Apna Dal (Soneylal) that is an ally of the BJP.

In this Kurmi-dominated seat, Krishna has posed a challenge to BJP candidate Surendra Narayan Sigh by contesting as an independent. The SP has fielded sitting MLA Mahendra Singh Patel, a brother of minister Surendra Singh Patel.

In Sevapuri, Anupriya’s aide Neel Ratan Singh Patel is contesting as the Apna Dal (Soneylal) candidate. The SP has fielded sitting MLA Surendra Singh Patel while the BSP has fielded a Brahmin, Mahendra Kumar Pandey. BJP rebel Vibhuti Narayan Singh has jumped as an independent candidate after the party denied him the ticket. With the BJP from two decades, Singh was expelled.

BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya said the BJP will win all the seats in Varanasi because it is in the nature of Varanasi voters to support the BJP’s symbol.

3 in Machhlishahr
In OBC-dominated Shivpur, BJP has fielded Anil Rajbhar against the SP’s Anand Mohan a.k.a. Guddu Yadav. The BSP’s Uday Lal Maurya had won in 2012 but the party has replaced him with Virendra Singh.

In Ajgara, BSP has fielded sitting MLA Tribhuvan Ram, former engineer-in-chief of UP PWD department in the previous Mayawati government. The SP has fielded Lalji Sonkar while BJP ally Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party has fielded Kailash Nath Sonkar.

Pindra, dominated by Brahmins and Patels (Kurmi), was won by the Congress’s Ajay Rai, a Bhumihar, in 2012. He also contested the Lok Sabha election against Modi in Varanasi in 2014. Rai is recontesting and Rahul Gandhi campaigned for him recently. The BJP has fielded Avadhesh Singh, also a Bhumihar, while the BSP’s Babulal is a Patel (Kurmi). NDA partners RPI and Shiv Sena too have fielded candidates.

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