Comparing apples and oranges
There is a big hype about the VVIP contest in two constituencies in Uttar Pradesh – Amethi and Varanasi – from where the two prime ministerial aspirants are contesting. As the AAP chief Kejriwal puts it succinctly, ‘Benares and Amethi are the only two contests that matter in this election. Our priority must be to have Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi defeated.’ While there should be no surprise at both winning their respective seats, the challengers are trying to bring down their margin.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is contesting from his family pocket borough Amethi for the third time. Now that polling is over, we have to wait for 16 May. Rahul had won the seat in 2009 with a 3.70-lakh margin. So why should his margin come down? Although ground level reports show that Amethi is quite disappointed with lack of amenities and infrastructure expected in a VVIP constituency, Rahul should be able to retain the seat despite the anti-Congress mood in the country, many say. If Rahul Gandhi loses the elections, then the challenger would also become a giant killer.
Secondly, Gandhi is facing two high profile challengers – Kumar Viswas of the Aam Aadmi Party and Smriti Irani of the BJP – both outsiders. While Rahul is campaigning all over the country leaving it to his sister Priyanka Gandhi to campaign for him, the other two are camping in Amethi.
Thirdly, both the AAP and the BJP are keen to challenge the Gandhi scion. The BJP had shown that it could bring down the margin when it fielded Sushma Swaraj against Sonia Gandhi in Bellary in 1999 when Swaraj lost just by 55,000 votes.
But comparing Varanasi and Amethi will be like comparing apples and oranges. They have some similarities and also some dissimilarity. Both are witnessing a lively fight – representing colour, caste, religion, emotion and symbolism. While Varanasi is the ancient holy city for the Hindus, it is also important for the Buddhists and Jains. It is a symbol of Hindu religion, education and culture and there is nothing surprising why Modi has chosen this seat It attracts not only pilgrims but also tourists and has its old world charm in the 100 odd Ghats, lanes and by-lanes. The city is full of life as people are seen enjoying the famous Benarasi paan and lassi or buying Benarsi sarees.
In contrast, Amethi is a sleepy rural constituency and comes alive only during elections. It has no signs of a VVIP constituency. The AAP and the BJP are fully utilising the issues of lack of amenities, education and health. In the Assembly elections in 2012, the Congress won only two seats in Amethi. The BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi has chosen Varanasi as his second seat. First of all representing Varanasi is symbolic as he claims he has come from the land of Somnath to seek the blessings of Vishwanath. Most prime ministers including Vajpayee had chosen the UP route to reach 7, Race Course Road. Secondly, Varanasi is considered a safe BJP seat as the party has held it for long. In the 2009, elections party’s former president Murli Manohar Joshi narrowly won the seat.
Thirdly and more importantly, BJP hopes that the Modi magic might work not only in 29 poorvanchal seats, but also 14 adjoining seats in Avadh region and nine in Bihar influencing 52 seats in all.
Modi too has two min challengers – AAP chief Kejriwal and the Congress candidate Ajay Rai. Kejriwal has the track record of a giant killer. He believes in micro level strategy. He has already held secret meetings with Hindu seers and sought the help of Muslim clerics. His campaign got a boost when the Jamait e Islami Hind extended its support to AAP. If Muslims help him, he will emerge as number two.
The Congress has fielded Ajay Rai, a sitting Congress legislator who is playing his Bhumihar card pretty well. The BJP has begun to take note of Rai whose campaign is picking up steadily. The SP and the BSP candidates are almost non- entities. Getting ready for a photo finish contest in Varanasi, the opposition parties are quietly working on a plan to make it a Modi versus the rest contest. There is a tacit understanding between political groups to consolidate the opposition votes against Modi. The sudden withdrawal of Quami Ekta Dal candidate Mukhtar Ansari from the fray and his support to Ajay Rai gives clear indication of the regroupings. The caste is an important factor in their electoral fortunes. However, the 3.5 lakh Muslims hold the key to the success of the candidate as well as their margin.
If Modi has impressed Varanasi with his mega road show, Kejriwal is everywhere concentrating in rural Varanasi. He might have taken a leaf from late Kanshiram who said, ‘One fights the first election to lose, the second to ensure defeat of the party you want to replace…and the last one to win and seek political power’. He meets people in small groups, visits the Ghats, goes round the lanes of impoverished Muslim weavers and seeks the support of Dalits, Muslims and the economically poor.
Modi is packaged as the only leader who can give stable government and provide decisive leadership to bring changer. The entire Sangh Parivar is working overtime for him apart from senior leaders campaigning for him.
The 3.5 lakh Muslims most of whom are poor weavers living in pitiable conditions and facing stiff competition from China are looking for a candidate who can defeat Modi. The more the BJP flexes its muscle the more the Muslims fear Modi. In both the VVIP constituencies, the margin depends upon the Muslim votes. They have a choice between the AAP and the Congress and they are probably moving towards AAP in Varanasi and Congress in Amethi. IPA