The political message in Sonia Gandhi’s Varanasi visit

  • Jatin Gandhi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 02, 2016 16:37 IST
Congress president Sonia Gandhi arrives in Varanasi, ahead of a rally in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency. (AFP Photo)

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is expected to highlight the lack of development in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi during her road show in the heritage city on Tuesday.

Modi may be in her line of fire, but that’s only part of the agenda. In a two-pronged strategy, she is also out to woo Brahmins as the Congress tries to regain Uttar Pradesh after 27 years.

Flanked by the party’s Brahmin face in Uttar Pradesh, Sheila Dikshit, Gandhi will offer prayers at the Kashi Vishwanath temple and participate in the aarti – the evening prayer on the banks of the Ganga.

Modi ousted the 10-year-long Congress-led UPA government at the Centre with his development narrative in 2014. By highlighting the lack of development in his constituency, Gandhi will try to turn the Congress’s campaign into an aggressive one, something that the party has sorely missed in UP over the years.

The BJP came to power in 2014 riding on its new found ability to attract different castes, more so in Uttar Pradesh where with its ally Apna Dal, it bagged 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The BJP, even when its political fortunes had plunged, won the Varanasi seat six times since 1991. The Congress won the seat just once, in 2004.

All MPs from Varanasi in the last quarter of a century, with the exception of Modi, have been Brahmins and the BJP counts on its support among the caste.

The Congress is now trying to cut into that BJP base. This is not Gandhi’s first visit to Varanasi but it will be her first to the famous temple. The road show starts at BR Ambedkar’s statue in front of the city’s circuit house and will culminate with the Congress chief garlanding the statue of former chief minister Kamlapati Tripathi.

The Congress’s message is that the city was last developed under Tripathi who also represented it in the Lok Sabha from 1980 to 1984. Experts say by wooing the Brahmins, who have significant presence in eastern Uttar Pradesh and are also seen as “influencers” in elections and stressing the lack of development in Varanasi, the Congress is trying to wean them away from the BJP.

“The BJP is better placed to get the support of Brahmins but the Congress might do better than it earlier had,” says political scientist and author Prof Sudha Pai. “Even Brahmins want a change and development,” she adds.

During his visit to Varanasi in September last year, Modi had promised he would do for the constituency in five years, what hadn’t been done in 50. The Congress wants to send the message that the PM is not keeping his promise.

The wooing of Brahmins in UP will also send a message to the community in other states. “They have felt abandoned by the Congress for a long time,” says Prof Pai.

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