Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) star campaigner, will likely sweep Varanasi yet again in the 2019 polls. He is pitted against Congress’ Ajay Rai, whom he had defeated in the last Lok Sabha polls by a huge margin.
Varanasi is considered a BJP stronghold, with the party retaining it consistently since 1991, except for 2004 when Congress’ Rajesh Kumar Mishra had won.
Party bigwigs, including Union ministers Piyush Goyal and Rajyavardhan Rathore, are in Varanasi to ensure that Modi wins with a record victory margin, according to Hindustan Times. BJP president Amit Shah also flew down to Varanasi after his roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday and Modi, according to the report, also keeps in touch with the political mood in the constituency.
Vijay Bahadur Pathak, BJP General Secretary, was quoted as saying by IANS that Modi will double his margin.
In 2014, he had defeated AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal by a massive margin of 3.37 lakh votes in Varanasi after polling 5,16,593 votes — about half of the total votes.
Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001 and was the longest serving chief minister of the state before being crowned BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
Several controversial decisions — demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) — marked his tenure as the prime minister. He is now seeking a second term and several analysts (read here and here) have pointed out that the 2019 elections have become centred around Modi.
Congress’ Rai, who is contesting against Modi again, is confident that the situation in Varanasi is very different from what it was five years ago. He told The Indian Express that the Gujarat development model highlighted by the BJP in 2014 has failed to deliver.
There was earlier speculation that Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi will contest against the Prime Minister, but Congress again fielded Rai from the constituency.
Shalini Yadav, the candidate of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party alliance after Tej Bahadur Yadav’s nomination was rejected, told Huffpost India that she is going to give the PM a tough fight. “His popularity has gone down, his vote share will go down, his margin will go down,” she added.
Modi has, according to IANS, a total of 25 contestants fighting against him. The contenders also include Manohar Anand Rao Patil, a farmer from Maharashtra, who said he wants to draw Modi’s attention to the plight of farmers.
The number of contenders against Modi has come down from 41 in 2014 elections. Forty candidates, who fought against him in the last polls, lost their deposits, according to India Today.
In 2014, he had contested from Varanasi as well as Vadodara and after winning both, he decided to retain Varanasi. However, unlike the last elections, Modi will not be contesting from a second seat this time.
There was a lot of speculation that the Prime Minister may contest from Puri, but the BJP announced Sambit Patra’s candidature from the temple town.
With weak contenders, Varanasi will likely be a walkover for Modi. BJP, according to Hindustan Times, is already claiming that Modi is set to break all records in the constituency.
The BJP’s target is a victory margin of 700,000 votes for the prime minister, the report added.
Modi filed his nomination from Varanasi on 26 April, accompanied by a number of top BJP and NDA leaders. He held a massive seven kilometre roadshow before filing his papers.
Modi also performed the ‘Ganga aarti’ at the Dashashwamedh ghat. He was accompanied by senior BJP leaders, including party president Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Modi ran an aggressive campaign, with references to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Pulwama terror attack.
There were several complaints against him for violating the model code of conduct, but the Election Commission has so far given a clean chit to him in all the cases.
He has been accused of politicising the armed forces, the Pulwama attack and the Balakot strike. The Election Commission had issued an advisory in March asking parties to desist from indulging in political propaganda involving actions of the armed forces.
(With PTI inputs)