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In home constituency, PM Modi’s show of strength

A day before he files his nomination papers for re-election, PM Modi on Thursday participated in a spectacular electoral roadshow attended by tens of thousands of supporters in his Lok Sabha constituency, culminating in the daily evening aarti on the banks of the Ganga.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 25, 2019 23:27 IST
Sudhir Kumar and Kumar Uttam
Sudhir Kumar and Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, Varanasi
Lok Sabha elections 2019,PM Modi,narendra Modi
Prime minister Narendra Modi waves to his supporters during his roadshow for upcoming lok sabha elections campaign 2019 in Varanasi on Thursday. (ANI file photo)

A day before he files his nomination papers for re-election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday participated in a spectacular electoral roadshow attended by tens of thousands of supporters in his Lok Sabha constituency, culminating in the daily evening aarti on the banks of the Ganga.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters, joined by ordinary residents, showered rose petals on Modi’s cavalcade as it made its way through the narrow lanes of the city. Riding a heavily guarded sports utility vehicle, the PM waved to people who crowded the rooftops and balconies of houses along the 6 kilometre route of the roadshow that started at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and ended at Dashashwamedh Ghat.

People also lined the streets for hours to catch a glimpse of Modi, who landed at BHU around 5 pm and garlanded a statue of its founder Madan Mohan Malaviya outside the campus before setting off on his road show. The event was delayed by almost two hours, and Modi reached Dashashwamedh Ghat around 7.45 pm to take part in the aarti.

BJP president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and other party leaders were in Varanasi to receive the PM and attend the roadshow.

Modi sat on the banks of the Ganga with folded hands throughout the aarti for about half-an-hour, clapping in between and singing bhajans.

The priests applied tilak on his forehead.

Modi was greeted with slogans of “Har Har Mahadev” and “Jai Shri Ram” by enthusiastic supporters on his roadshow. BJP leaders claimed that more than 500,000 people attended the roadshow and Ganga aarti, but Hindustan Times could not independently confirm the figure.

“There was no space to walk in the road show. It was unprecedented,” said Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari, an alumnus of BHU, who was in Varanasi to take part in the roadshow.

Speaking to a group of intellectuals in the temple city after the mega roadshow, Modi said security is a pre-condition for economic prosperity and under his government, there had been no terror arrack on any temple or city in the last five years. “Terrorism is now limited to a small region of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Varanasi is an important seat in Hinduism, and holds great significance in the politics of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Modi decided to contest Varanasi, apart from Vadodara in Gujarat, in the last parliamentary election to revive the BJP’s fortunes in the country’s most populous state, which sends 80 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha, more than any other state. Modi held a similar roadshow before filing his nomination papers in Varanasi in 2014.

“Today’s show was bigger than 2014,” Tiwari claimed. “Modi was hope for people in 2014. Today, he is their confidence.”

Uttar Pradesh is the most crucial battleground for the BJP in the 2019 general election. The party is confronting a united challenge from one-time arch rivals Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, which are counting on the support of Dalits, other backward classes and minorities to dent the strength of the BJP, which on its own won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP the last time around.

Speculation that Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may challenge Modi in Varanasi fizzled out on Thursday after the Congress said former legislator Ajay Rai would be its candidate for the seat. Rai was the Congress candidate in 2014 as well, and he finished third with 75,614 votes against Modi’s tally of 581,022 votes. Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvin Kejriwal was the runner-up in 2014, when he lost to Modi by a margin of 371,784 votes. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Shalini Yadav, who unsuccessfully contested the 2017 mayoral election, against Modi.

First Published: Apr 25, 2019 23:27 IST

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