BJP has for all purposes assumed Modi’s victory in Varanasi and the country.

The last phase of a nine phase long election comes to an end three days from now. And in this phase, is the most talked about Varanasi constituency witnessing the battle of titans (NaMo Vs AK) not seen in recent times. In fact, in a recent Time poll both figured in 100 most influential people in the world. It is rare to see a political fight between 2 Time 100 influential people in the same instance when they feature in the publication- and hence there is a large interest from international media too.

modi manifesto varanasi Why AK may upset NaMo apple cart in Varanasi?

Many political commentators and analysts enamored by a nationwide Modi Wave (Or Tsunami) have all but declared a clear victory for BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Most believe that it is only the margin of victory which remains to be seen on 16th, when counting of votes begins. A critical analysis of various underlying factors, however, could dent this over optimism.

Overview

Varanasi has 16 lakh voters. According to rough estimates published in sections of the press, there are about 3 lakh Brahmins, 1.75 lakh Bhuihars, 1.5 lakh Thakurs and other upper castes, 4 lakh OBCs, 2.2 lakhs Dalits, 2.5 lakh Muslims, and 1.2 lakh others (Bengalis, Panjabis, South Indians etc). In the last election (2009), the voting percentage was a low 42.5% and BJP’s Murali Manohar Joshi (2,03,122 votes 30.52% of votes)  won with a small margin of 17,211 votes by beating BSP candidate Mukthar Ansari (1,85,911 votes 27.94% votes). Varanasi’s electorate of 1.5 million has chosen a BJP candidate every time since 1991, with the exception of 2004 when the Congress party won the seat. It is essentially a traditional BJP stronghold.

The city has been acknowledged as the cultural hub of the country. It is also the industrial and trading capital of eastern UP. Varanasi is famous for its silk and saree industry. But the skilled Muslim weavers of Banarasi sarees have to face a lot of difficulties in carrying on. The infrastructure in terms of roads is poor with a plethora of potholes and heaps of garbage welcoming visitors at every turn. Traffic is in shambles.  There are regular power cuts rendering industries idle for long stretches. Water supply is erratic. The neglect of most sacred river Ganges is all too evident.

Elections 2014

The present contest is essentially between BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Mr. Narendra Modi and founder of anti- corruption political outfit AAP, Arvind Kejriwal. Congress Candidate Mr. Ajay Rai was a SP candidate in 2009 and finished third, securing 1,23,874 votes (18.61%). He has been extended support by Mr. Mukhtar Ansari who finished second in the last elections. However, this combination of second and third contestants last time has hardly enthused voters as they have changed sides and their inner personal bitterness has overshadowed public bonhomie. Even the appeal of local (Ajay Rai) vs outsiders (NaMo/AK) has hardly cut ice with the electorate as both the outsiders are political heavyweights – one a potential Prime Minister and the other a crusader for a new political era successfully experimented in Delhi.

Modi promises development and good days ahead- achhe din aane vaale hain. However, the challenger Kejriwal pricks the so called Gujarat model , questions crony capitalism of Modi and his trust of the corrupt entrants in his party. It is back to basics, the common man as epicenter of decision making and development; Kejriwal promises an alternative model of Governance- mujhe chahiye swaraj. His opponents dub the high drama in his 49 day Government in Delhi and call him an anarchist/escapist. The debate escalates further to Modi’s role in 2002 riots, Snoop Gate, links with Adani/ Ambani etc. The BJP retaliates with a strong record of Modi in Gujarat government against an irresponsible resignation by Kejriwal in 2 months in Delhi; a proven track record of Modi vs a rank outsider shying away from responsibility.

The battle is essentially a battle of mind space. A fight between status quo political order and a yearning for change.  An anarchist vs an authoritarian. It will be interesting to see how this culminates on May 12th – the voting day. However, a few factors which could have a bearing are listed below.

The X Factors:

Two States

  • Modi has decided to contest from two states: Vadodara in Gujarat and Varanasi in UP. In case he wins both, he has to retain one and give up the other. The voters in Varanasi may have the apprehension of being left in the lurch, if Modi vacates Varanasi.
  • Varanasi has a large number of weavers who have been losing market and a part of that is attributed to power looms of Surat in Gujarat. How will Modi position himself to strike a balance remains a challenge.

Anti- Incumbency

  • There is a strong anti-incumbency against the ruling Congress. However, it may also be borne in mind that in Varanasi the M.P., MLAs and Corporate are from BJP and certainly a part of anti-incumbency will adversely affect BJP too for poor performance of their representatives in addressing people’s problems.

Love for Varanasi

  • People are debating why Modi chose to contest from Varanasi. The route to PM’s chair goes through UP. But, BJP has not been doing well in UP for quite some time now. Especially in Purvanchal (east and north-east UP), its performance had been poor. Out of 29 LS seats, it won just three in 2004 and four in 2009.  Modi’s candidature is primarily a political manoeuvre  rather than a new found love for Varanasi.

Polarisation

  • This election has been one of the most polarized elections and has been touching new lows. Varanasi itself witnessed unprecedented heat in the fag end of electioneering yesterday (8th May)  when BJP protested against local administration’s refusal to permit holding of rally. The conduct of Election Commission itself was questioned. Of late, Mr. Modi himself has also been playing victim and flaunting his OBC origin. The polarization takes sheen from the Modi armor of development and good governance.

Open Debate AK Vs NaMo

  • Arvind Kejriwal has been daring Narendra Modi for a public debate in Varanasi. BJP has been evasive predictably on the issue.

Underdog

  • Pitted against a very resourceful, well organized machinery of BJP/RSS, Kejriwal stands grounded hopping from one village to another with small meetings. His message is simple. Congress and BJP represent the same political establishment. He stands for a common man centric new political order. His army of dedicated volunteers reaches door to door to canvass for such a new political order.

In the run up to the elections there have been huge polarizations across castes and communities. Newton’s Law has been in full force. To each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. To the strong current (wave) there is equally a strong undercurrent of mistrust and rejection of existing political order. And the multimillion dollar question is: Will Varanasi choose spring over saffron?

By Hari Hara Mishra
(The Author is readers’ choice winner of Wall Street Journal/ Marketwatch Investment columnist contest 2012)

Also See:
Muslim Votes- A Political Denial!
Election Is A Competitive Sport

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