The BJP’s decision to field its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Varanasi has completely changed the politics of the temple town. Now, any opposition to Modi — both from within his own party and rivals — will at the best be symbolic.
“Those who contest against Modi will get the status of martyr,” said a Congress leader.
Even the infighting between two Congress factions, led by former MP Rajesh Mishra and Rajeshpati Tripathi who is supporting party candidate Ajay Rai, has also stopped after Modi’s name was formally announced.
“No one wants to commit political suicide. Now, both the factions are reluctant to contest. Local leaders like Rajesh Mishra and Ajay Rai will agree to fight against Modi only if pushed by the Congress high command,” said a senior party leader. Although the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party candidates are not in a position to offer even symbolic opposition to Modi, the Varanasi battle can still have some interest left with Aam Admi Party leader Kejriwal joining the fray.
Also, polarisation on religious lines is a possibility with Quami Ekta Dal leader Mukhtar Ansari — who has a long and colourful history of violence and criminal activities — deciding to contest from Varanasi.
Afzal Ansari, president of the Quami Ekta Dal, announced Mukhtar’s name in case Modi contests from this parliamentary seat. Mukhtar had lost to the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi by 17,000 votes in the 2009 general elections in Varanasi. According to political observers, if Mukhtar manages to polarise Muslims in his favour, it may become an all-Hindu-votes-for-Modi situation. “This will add to Modi’s margin,” said Kaushal Kishore Mishra, head of the political science department, BHU.
He said since Modi’s victory is a foregone conclusion, all eyes would be on the margin. “Modi’s candidature from Varanasi is also likely to influence voters in eastern UP, parts of Bihar and Jharkhand.”