The BJP, for which Lucknow has been a stronghold mainly because of former PM AB Vajpayee, faces a litmus test this time.
The colossus, who won here from 1991 to 2004, is not in the thick of action. But his mere appeal for votes had ensured smooth sailing for his protégé and successor Lalji Tandon in the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
Without Vajpayee, the BJP lost its Lucknow (west) citadel to the Congress in the 2009 bypolls.
Sensing the party’s uncertainties, the Congress is now concentrating on Lucknow — going to polls on February 19 — with general secretary Rahul Gandhi holding a road show here on Thursday.
Of the five segments in the Lucknow Lok Sabha seat, the BJP has always managed to wrest at least four since the 1993 elections.
“Undoubtedly, he was the tallest political icon of his time. Why only the BJP, no political leader for that matter commands that kind of clout or respect across the political spectrum in the country,” admitted BJP leader Amit Puri. “The party was a major contender in all the assembly seats here. In fact, the battle of the ballot was mostly the BJP versus the rest till 2007, when Vajpayee addressed his last public meeting in Aliganj,” pointed out another BJP office-bearer.
A lot is at stake for the BJP in the state capital, where the party has fielded senior leader Kalraj Mishra from Lucknow (east), Lalji Tandon’s son Ashutosh from Lucknow (north) and three sitting MLAs in the city’s central, west and cantt assembly constituencies.
Even when Vajpayee was around, the winning margin of its three sitting MLAs had started dipping. Vidya Sagar Gupta, a three-time MLA from Lucknow (east), had won by around 36,000 votes in 1996, when Vajpayee’s popularity was at its peak, but in the subsequent polls of 2002 and 2007 he scraped through by wafer-thin margins of 300 and 600-odd votes. This time he has shifted to Lucknow central.
With Vajpayee’s written appeal not having come so far (the BJP may manage that still), the party is still looking to him to bail it out again. If the BJP does well here, it will merely establish what top party leaders
had admitted during their June meeting — that the party is still struggling to find a replacement for its magic man.