The Congress is in two minds over fielding Digvijaya Singh against Narendra Modi in Varanasi, as it fears that it could antagonise the Brahmins in the holy city.
The dominant view is that a Brahmin, and not a Rajput leader such as Digvijaya Singh, should stand from Varanasi, as 10% of the Uttar Pradesh voters are Brahmins.
Varanasi caught the attention of the nation and even beyond after the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal decided to face each other in this constituency.
Digvijaya Singh, a Rajput leader, has publicly offered to take on both Modi and Kejriwal in Varanasi. “I am willing to contest from Varanasi, but the party has to first give me a ticket,” Singh told reporters earlier this week.
But the broad thinking in the Congress is that the move could hurt the Congress prospects not only in Varanasi but also in many other seats in Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of Parliament seats, 80.
As is the case in every election in the state, the rivalry between the Brahmins and Rajputs has peaked in this poll season as well. “We don’t want to add fuel to the fire and pit one community against the other,” a senior Congress functionary said.
The Congress is also hoping to cash in on the Brahmins’ disillusionment with the BJP after the saffron party decided to shift the sitting MP, Murli Manohar Joshi, to Kanpur to make way for Modi, a backward caste leader from Gujarat.
According to UP Congress leaders, the Brahmins are also upset with the BJP for giving prominence to Rajputs, especially after Rajput leader Rajnath Singh took over as the party chief.
A section in the Congress is pushing for the candidature of former Brahmin MP Rajesh Mishra from Varanasi, while another group wants the ticket for Bhumihar leader Ajay Rai.
A three-time BJP legislator, Rai had contested from the seat in 2009 on a Samajwadi Party ticket. His 2009 affidavit lists about four pending criminal cases.