The Varanasi Challenge

Author: NS; Editor: Politicalbaaba

Never before has any political constituency acquired so much media and public attention. Or witnessed so many roadshows. Or rallies. Or controversies. Probably Bellary in 1999 comes to mind when Sushma Swaraj challenged Sonia Gandhi. But Varanasi 2014 is certainly miles ahead. And the temple town is certainly lapping it up. An economy which is heavily dependent on religious tourism is welcoming the political tourist with open arms too. Banarasi paans/sarees/lassi/samosa (or tikonas) are in high demand.

And they owe it all to one man. On March 15, the BJP decided to field Modi from Varanasi. And life has never been the same again. BJP’s reasons to field Modi are now well known. The town has been a stronghold of the saffron party. In 2009, MM Joshi left his traditional seat of Allahabad when he was unsure of victory and shifted to Varanasi. He won from here despite dismal performance of BJP in UP.

A back of the hand break up of the ~ 16 lakhs population is Brahmins – 3.5 lakhs, Thakurs and Baniyas -2.5 Lakhs; Kurmis- 1.5 Lakhs, Muslims – 3.5 lakhs; Bhumihars-1.75 lakh and others-1.50 lakh( including Gujaratis, Marathis, Bengalis, Sikh etc).

The first/second and last segment is expected to turn out heavily in favour of Modi. Nitish Kumar (a Kurmi) has declared support for Kejriwal. But he has refrained from openly campaigning in Varanasi probably because he knows he has very little pull outside Bihar. (This election might prove he has little pull in even Bihar). Even the Bhumihar community (Congress candidate Ajay Rai is a Bhumihar) has declared open support for Modi. Rai’s sister-in-law has openly spoken against him for taking support from Ansari who is an accused in the murder of Krishnanand Rai, Ajay Rai’s elder brother.

Infact, the earlier political or in other words ‘bahubali’ equation in Varanasi was not too dissimilar from the gangwar situation in Mumbai between Chota Rajan (Hindu faction) and Dawood Ibrahim (Muslim faction). We can guess which sides Rai and Ansari were.

While Ansari has declared support for Rai, the Muslims are particularly wary of voting for him. Firstly because he has been a nemesis for the community in the past and was infact a BJP candidate in the communally charged 90s decade (It is an irony that the ‘secular’ Congress could not find any other candidate). Secondly, with the loss of support from the Bhumihars, he does not seem to the one who can challenge Modi in any manner. Even in 2009, when the Bhumihars backed him, he could manage only 1.23 lakh votes and was a distant 3rd.

The blunder by the state administration to deny permission to Modi to hold a rally in the minority dominated Benia Bagh locality has further consolidated Modi’s votes.  While many in Mumbai/Delhi may not approve of the BJP dharna, it is playing perfectly in the hands of the BJP not only in Varanasi but in other parts of UP, where the majority populace suffers from a strong under-current of negative bias by the state government.

With all of the AAP/Congress/SP and others vying for the Muslim votes, the outcome seems to be pretty straightforward. India Today survey shows 56% voters preferring Modi. The only question would be the margin of victory. However, be rest assured the media would not let you believe that.  Reason –  would anybody waste a Sunday afternoon on a non contest. A tight fight between Kejriwal and Modi, on the other hand, is perfectly good for TRPs. Kejriwal may even end up finishing 3rd. Enjoy the drama…..

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  1. Modi wave will destroy all obstructions. The final tally shall be much higher than any poll survey predicts. Definitely +325


  2. Hi Ashok. Appreciate your reply. There is a good article by R. Jagannathan on first post as to why BJP can surprise all opinion polls and may end up higher than 300. The stock market rally of 600 points on friday also points to that. So your projections may not be too far ahead. We shall know in a week. Awaiting eagerly for Political Baaba’s first post poll analysis.


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