Why Varanasi is important for Modi

Having fought the Uttar Pradesh polls without a CM face and facing a stiff contest in Varanasi, the BJP has perforce to fall back on ‘Brand Modi’. But relying so much on the PM is a double-edged sword

Photo by Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Biswajeet Banerjee

The last 40 out of Uttar Pradesh’s 403 constituencies go to polls on March 8, but have hogged the limelight like no other phase. Why is Varanasi and the adjoining region going to polls in the final phase so important?

All top BJP leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to party chief Amit Shah, Union Ministers, RSS leaders, poll strategists and election managers have stormed this VVIP constituency. The Prime Minister held three road shows, which the BJP calls “Jan Darshan”.

Why the disproportionate effort by the BJP?

A senior BJP leader said if the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance clicks, the BJP's road to success in Varanasi can get very tough. In some seats, the Bahujan Samaj Party also justifiably fancies its chances. All parties have been making assiduous attempts to court the youth vote, whose energy was most visible during the respective road shows of PM Narendra Modi and the Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi combine on March 4. Youth also propelled BSP supremo Mayawati’s rally in Varanasi’s Rohaniya seat on the same day, and the BSP road show in Jaunpur the following day. The ability of youth supporters to push turnout through door-to-door efforts will be critical to each party’s success in Varanasi seats, and thus they are sparing no effort to court the constituency of the young.

Out of eight seats in Varanasi, the BJP and the alliance currently holds three seats. This includes the Congress stronghold of Pindra, from where party MLA Ajay Rai is contesting again. The Samajwadi Party has Rohaniya and Sevapuri seats, while the BSP has MLAs from Ajagara and Shivpur.

The challenge for the BJP is to ramp up its winning numbers in Varanasi and, most importantly for Modi, to ensure the BJP's dominance in the region after its massive victories here in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. After all, Varanasi is the Prime Minister’s Lok Sabha seat. Having fought the elections without a CM face, and facing dissidence over its choice of candidates—its 7-time Varanasi South legislator Shyamdev Roy Chaudhari ‘Dada’, denied a ticket in 2017, on Monday said the BJP is facing a tough challenge by the SP-Congress alliance in all 8 seats in Varanasi district—the party has perforce to fall back on 'Brand Modi', and that's the reason why the top brass of the BJP and much of the Union Cabinet stormed Varanasi.

The BJP is also banking on in-fighting between rival sections of the Congress in the district, and making not-so-subtle attempts to polarise. A Congress leader Rajesh Shukla said the BJP had always tried to polarise the elections in its favour‎. “This time we are trying hard not to let it become Hindu vs Muslims poll,” he said.

But relying so much on Modi is a double-edged sword. While he will lap up the credit for a win, failure to bag all Varanasi city seats could conversely lead to a loss of face for Modi. BJP MP from Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath tried to downplay the concerns. “Anyone is a PM or minister later and a party worker first. Since it is an election and we are taking it seriously, every worker is devoting his time and energy for the cause,” he said.

Congress state spokesperson Kamlakar Tripathi says: “The BJP is highly anxious. The alliance is giving their leaders sleepless nights. It's not only the battle for UP. Modi ji is probably more keen on saving his honour in his own parliamentary constituency.”

With inputs by NH National Bureau.

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