BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi waves to supporters as he arrives in an open vehicle to file his nomination in Varanasi. (AP photo)
Election 2014’s biggest turf war is on.
As saffron forces flood Gandhi bastion Amethi to prepare for Narendra Modi’s big rally there on Monday, the Congress has deployed a contingent of heavyweight leaders in Varanasi — the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s seat — for smooth election management. It is also considering sending party vice-president and Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi to the temple town, though a final decision is yet to be taken.
Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, sources said, is camping in Varanasi and has been there for a few days already. “He is our chief coordinator. He handles everything, from distribution of campaign material to the list of speakers for a rally,” a party strategist said. The others include foreign minister Salman Khurshid, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma and senior partymen Mukul Wasnik and Subodh Kant Sahay.
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The sources said the party was mulling the option of having Rahul campaign in Varanasi but “a final decision will be taken only after polling in Amethi gets over on May 7”. They added that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi won’t be travelling to Varanasi. Earlier, there was talk of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra going there and offering puja at the Sankat Mochan Hanuman mandir, though not actively taking part in any campaign. The Congress’ local MLA Ajay Rai takes on Modi and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi on May 12.
Wasnik, a prominent SC leader, is slated to attend a few rallies while Sharma is regularly seen alongside Rai in the latter’s tours. Khurshid is set to campaign in select pockets. Rai had earlier told the media Priyanka had assured him of all help.
In Amethi, preparations were in full flow on Sunday for the big show ahead. With Monday being the last day for campaigning, BJP candidate Smriti Irani plans to release her vision for Amethi — listing promises on the education, health, employment, women’s security and power fronts — while the Parivar is contemplating releasing a two-minute film on the region’s backwardness, sources told HT.
On Sunday, Priyanka went to some Amethi villages to hold interactions with the people, assuring them of better communication in future and asking the villagers to ensure higher turnout.
At the meetings of booth management committees, some Congress leaders had demanded the party should also hold another rally of Sonia Gandhi in the region.
Meanwhile, addressing two ‘maha chaupals’, Rahul targeted Modi for snoopgate and giving cheap land to the Adani group in Gujarat. “Modi should respect women and assure them he would not indulge in phone tapping instead of bringing out posters declaring power to the fair sex,” he said.
“We do not need leaders who talk of giving powers. Instead, we need those who think power is within us and know how to harness it,” said Rahul.
He also attacked other candidates contesting the Lok Sabha election and said, “You see two to three new faces every five years.”
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The saffron brigade descended on Amethi after the BJP’s UP in-charge Amit Shah spent all of Friday there holding strategy meetings. Breaking the unsaid rule of keeping off a political rival’s turf, the BJP had announced Friday that Modi would hold a rally in the constituency — days after Hindustan Times broke the news that such moves were afoot and that the Congress could reciprocate.
“It’s sad that the Congress has chosen to neglect this constituency. Imagine, even for a postmortem, people have to travel to Sultanpur,” local BJP leader Ravi Dutt said. The Gandhi stronghold lacks a degree college for girls and is plagued with rising unemployment despite returning a Congress candidate on all but two occasions, he added.
“We have high hopes from Modiji’s rally. It’s going to be a mammoth show of saffron wave on Gandhi turf,” said state unit chief Laxmikant Bajpai, camping there since Saturday.
Along with Bajpai and numerous BJP workers, senior RSS leaders like Bal Mukund are also in the district.
Alleging that the Congress was rattled, the saffron sources said Sonia had had to visit Amethi to ask the people to take care of “her son” while Priyanka’s “extended” stay there was proof the party was no longer as confident of a win.
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