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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

BJP reaches out to west Bihar, east UP with Modi's Varanasi plunge

Kumar Uttam and Manish Chandra Pandey, Hindustan Times  New Delhi/Lucknow, March 17, 2014
First Published: 10:33 IST(17/3/2014) | Last Updated: 13:34 IST(17/3/2014)

The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) decision to field its prime minister nominee, Narendra Modi, from Varanasi is aimed at reaping political dividends in Poorvanchal comprising east Uttar Pradesh and some districts of west Bihar, say political analysts.

Strategists of the BJP are confident about the calculated risk of replacing sitting Varanasi parliamentarian Murli Manohar Joshi with Modi even in the face of dissent. The party has also fielded its president, Rajnath Singh, in place of sitting Lucknow MP Lalji Tandon.

Though dissidents feel the decision taken in consultation with BJP's ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), may have a negative impact, saffron party's strategists cite homework and 'internal surveys' behind the move.

Modi's rallies in UP ahead of polls were a huge success, but the response in Poorvanchal was not meeting the expectations of the party.

Read: Varanasi to be Modi's political graveyard, says Lalu

Poorvanchal, which is spread from Gorakhpur in the north to Varanasi in the south, has 50 seats. The combined 120 seats of UP (80) and Bihar (40) are crucial in reaching the magic figure of 272 in the House.

"By getting Modi to contest from Varanasi, an important centre of Hindu pilgrimage, the party is attempting to not just retain the seat but also make an impact in east UP," MP Dube, a professor of the political science department of Allahabad University, said.

Veteran political analyst Rajnath Singh Surya said, "Varanasi's proximity to Bihar could help the party's influence in the region."

Amit Shah, BJP's UP-in-charge and a Modi aide, played his part in booking the Varanasi berth for the PM nominee. The move has its genesis in a field study Shah had conducted in UP.

Read: In Varanasi, fans and rival predict a Modi wave

After the study, Shah was confident about the BJP's prospects in west UP. He also informed Modi that the party was also picking up seats in six districts around Bareilly in northeastern UP and a traditional stronghold of the BJP.

But not satisfied with the Poorvanchal picture, Shah finally came up with the idea of fielding Modi from Varanasi. "Our calculation was right," a BJP leader said, as celebrations erupted in the holy city much before the formal announcement.

Another party leader added, "Modi's presence in Varanasi will also boost the prospects of BJP candidates in bordering seats of Bihar like Arrah, Buxar and Sasaram, among others."

But there is a flip side. Disgruntled leaders feel the move to field "outsiders" may restrict the BJP's UP tally to 35, though it "could have been 60 seats".

Read: BJP's 'chai pe charcha' runs into EC trouble

Professor Dube, however, said negating anti-incumbency against sitting MPs Joshi and Tandon could also have been the reason why the party shuffled its top leaders.

According to strategists of the saffron camp, a survey had hinted at anti-incumbency in major constituencies alongside a Modi wave.

"The party cannot take a chance this time. To replace existing MPs, you needed candidates who had a bigger profile," a party insider said.

Another BJP leader said Lucknow and Varanasi suit the personalities of Rajnath and Modi perfectly.

"Modi was mentored by Advani, who was known as a hardliner before he attempted to showcase himself in the (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee mould. Rajnath, on the other hand, had the backing of Vajpayee, who was known as the moderate face of the BJP.

"The present sitting MPs of Varanasi and Lucknow carry this image too – Joshi is considered politically closer to the hardline faction and Tandon a moderate face."

Read: No 'Plan B' in BJP, fairly certain that Modi will be next PM, says Arun Jaitley


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