Big fight: Narendra Modi versus Arvind Kejriwal augurs well for India
Finally, BJP has decided to put its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Varanasi after a month-long suspense on it and by managing the miffed sitting MP Murali Manohar Joshi. And, as was expected, the Aam Aadmi Party National Convener Arvind Kejriwal is now being fielded against Modi, though formally it will be announced on March 23, after AAP Rally in Varanasi, in the typical ‘people-connect strategy’ of Nepal.
In this backdrop, over the next few days the significant things to note shall be: whether Modi takes up another ‘safer’ seat from Ahmedabad, and if so, with what logic, as UP is being touted as having a Modi-wave? Whether Samajwadi Party, BSP and Congress, who are in public space against Modi put up any candidate and if so, a candidate of repute and strength, in Varanasi? Whether the Murli Manohar Joshi faction of BJP chooses to throw full strength for Modi, or focuses more on Kanpur where Joshi is a candidate, or works against Modi in Varanasi?
Notwithstanding these unknown answers, it can still be said that this constituency with Modi versus Kejriwal scenario has made it perhaps the most watched contest of this election, along with may be Chandigarh, Chandni Chowk and Amethi. And all predictions, number games, caste-lineups will now be put up in various papers and by political forces of all hues.
It is significant due to the following reasons too. It is at Varanasi that the mother of all debates in 2014 elections will be played out to the last: Modi’s ‘Gujarat development model’ vis-à-vis ‘it is a well packaged and marketed lie’. This is good for the country as this polemics is central to the voting sentiment in India this time. It is in this constituency there will be the legendary David versus Goliath contest with all eyes glued. The 4 lacs Muslim voters and the 1.8 lacs Dalit voters will determine the fate of the elections with a large number of 3.5 lacs strong upper castes and OBC votes largely going in favour of BJP. Also, coming of Modi to UP and Kejriwal being against him here, may lead to tactical voting of minorities in favour of AAP here and in a few other seats where AAP has relatively strong candidates. What happens to Congress and Samajwadi Party in ‘open seats’ of UP, barring a few of their pocket boroughs, shall be interesting to watch.
Elections are also a game of perception. Just now, BJP is trying to portray the perception of ‘development model’, but Modi in Varanasi may give way to the perception of the ‘hardliner BJP’ with Sangh Parivar taking a lead role in UP politics over the next one month. This perception is itself good enough for reorganization of alliances and tactical voting by the minorities who are in significant numbers in more than half of the 80 UP seats and are quite disenchanted with the misrule of Akhilesh Yadav led SP government over the last two years.
The two seats a person contest for Modi (Varanasi and one from Gujarat possible) and Mulayam Singh Yadav (Mainpuri and Azamgarh) may give rise to mixed responses. Election Commission has been critical about this as one seat has to go through a re-election if the candidate wins from both seats. Also, opposition to these two leaders, specially AAP and Congress, will harp on the issue of ‘fear and uncertainty’ behind this safe route of two seats. Since a Modi-wave is being touted, it becomes all the more significant of Modi to avoid two seats contest to give some credence to this ‘wave’.
Also, going gaga over Ganga and Baba Viswanath in Kashi may not work with a large part of Varanasi voters. This is a centuries old starting communication, which needs to quickly mature into local issues, unsolved problems, building bridges in a sensitive seat and looking at what next for Varanasi. Kejriwal and team, as seen in Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections, are known to quickly focus on local issues, draw up a constituency-specific manifesto, appeal to the traditionally non-BJP voters, create booth committees from common people hitherto not in politics, and take up the moral high ground of anti-corruption and speak straight with a crusader’s zeal. Whether this tactic, so far going fine elsewhere, works in Varanasi is yet to be seen though.
Modi has the perception and media advantage, has the caste and community advantage in a 10-lakh voters’ constituency, and has recent political history in his favour. However, Varanasi has not seen one party dominance if a quarter century time is taken. More than 6 different political forces have won from here in the Lok Sabha elections, last two elections being won by BJP though.
And, in the perception game, with Arvind against Modi and Kumar Vishwas against Rahul, AAP has taken a moral high in public discourse on elections this time. It will be interesting to see whom does AAP pit against Sonia Gandhi though after Shazia Ilmi settling to see more of Raj Babbar in Ghaziabad rather than Sonia in Rae Baraeli.