After Wednesday’s seventh phase of elections, the centre of gravity for BJP’s election campaign will move to Varanasi. Not surprisingly, because the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will be fighting the battle of the ballot there on May 12.
Besides 8,200 party volunteers from Gujarat commandeered by Modi’s aide UP election-in-charge Amit Shah, senior party leaders such as Arun Jaitley and Gen VK Singh and movie stars Paresh Rawal and Vivek Oberoi are expected to camp in Varanasi till the crucial election there is over.
With 33 Lok Sabha seats to go in the last two phase of polling, Shah is moving his dedicated team of volunteers after Gujarat goes to polls on April 30, to supplement some 800 BJP volunteers already campaigning in Poorvanchal.
While the party will fine-tune its electoral strategy on Wednesday evening, the holy city will become the nub of electoral campaign and planning for the remaining phases.
A senior BJP leader told HT that Jaitley, who has been locked in a contest with Congress candidate Amarinder Singh in Amritsar, is expected to reach Varanasi on May 2 and campaign in eastern UP for the next two days. “Gen Singh is expected to campaign in Amethi tomorrow (Wednesday). Shah lands in Varanasi on May 1 and will be reviewing the prospects of its party candidate Smriti Irani against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on May 4. Senior leaders have been asked to campaign in Varanasi for a day and then move out to other constituencies in Poorvanchal,” he said.
The reason for the party to move all its key resources to Varanasi is to cover entire eastern UP with rallies, meetings and road-shows in order to maximise its performance across the 33 seats. The mood in the party headquarters in Lucknow is very upbeat with senior leaders confident of bagging more than 50 seats in the state alone.
“We have not left anything to chance and are deploying party videographers in sensitive booths so that Samajwadi Party is not able to repeat Firozabad again. Dedicated teams have been tasked to man polling booths with reserves standing by in case of any untoward situation. We have already informed the state administration that any attempt to rig polls will not be tolerated,” a senior BJP leader said.
While the party leadership is confident of Modi winning Varanasi with a huge margin, it is pressing hard to counter any influence of Congress candidate Ajay Rai and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal. “Strong campaigning in eastern UP will also impact the seats across the border in Bihar,” the leader said.
The BJP had provided a glimpse of its cadre build-up in Varanasi on April 24 when Modi filed his nomination papers.
Shah and other party veterans accompanied him on a procession that virtually took the holy city by the Ganga river by storm.