Uttar Pradesh in general, and Varanasi in particular, hold a significant value for BJP, as it is a parliamentary constituency of PM Narendra Modi. The nation had witnessed BJP’S mega political roadshow in Varanasi on Friday, 26 April 2019. Prominent political figures like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Manoj Tiwari, Union minister JP Nadda, Mahendra Pandey etc, were in attendance to show solidarity with Modi. To understand the political- cultural importance of Varanasi for BJP, and to predict the Lok Sabha election outcome in the region, one must gain an insight on the following questions. First, why winning the Varanasi constituency is on a priority list for BJP? Secondly, can BJP retain power in Varanasi, in the presence of strong Mahagathbandhan alliance in the region?
Just like Mecca is identified as a holy space for Muslims around the world, Varanasi is considered to be the center of earth for Hindus around the world. The historical narrative of the region aligns with the traditional Hindu ideology of BJP as a political party. BJP’s self-portrayal as custodians of Hindu faith has won trust among the religious community in Varanasi. Although, the kind of communal Hinduism that BJP endorses , which involves segregation and marginalization of non-Hindus, is different from what Hinduism as a religion of unification and inclusion has to offer. ThisLok Sabha constituency has been a home victory of BJP since 1991, except in 2004, when Congress came into power. In 2014, PM Modi had won with a margin of over three lakh votes, which was seen as a historic victory. Therefore, winning the Varanasi constituency is crucially important for BJP in Lok Sabha election to maintain thepsychologically induced brand – ‘Modi-wave’ .However, in the presence of a strong BSP-SP alliance, the undisputable dominance of BJP in Varanasi is at risk.
Narendra Modi was heard saying in his roadshow in Varanasi, “Some people are creating the impression that Modi is winning so there’s no point of voting. Please don’t listen to such people. Come out and vote for a stronger India.” This statement reveals a psychological anxiety on Modi’s part. The analysis of voter turnout and pattern of the first three phase of Lok Sabha election reflects the reality of his anxiety. BJP has a tough run for all the 8 seats in Varanasi district, for which the SP-BSP alliance is fighting for, as well. In 2014, Ajay Rai of Congress had won 4.28% vote, Vijay Prakash Jaisawal of BSP had won 3.43% vote, Kailash Chaurasiya of SP had won 2.56% vote and Narendra Modi had won 32.89% vote, from Varanasi constituency seat. Narendra Modi have implemented policies that has benefitted the Hindu community of Varanasi, like that of construction of ‘Kashi Vishwanath Corridor’, which has been a major proponent in increase of local economy, via pilgrimage tourism. However, the very construction of it, has led to the demolition of Dalit colony in Varanasi. Even though Dalits are minorities in Varanasi, but the vote turn of Dalit community to a non-BJP party, will affect BJP’S vote bank. The SP-BSP four core pillars of voters are Muslim, Yadav, Dalits and Jatav. Each time they would vote for the alliance, it would have a significant negative impact on BJP’S vote bank. This was not a scenario in 2014 Lok Sabha election, as there were no alliances formed. BJP’s loss would not be out of negative swing against it, rather it is based on empirical arithmetic.
Anthro.ai, which is analyzing the voting trends in Uttar Pradesh using artificial intelligence, wrote after the second phase of polling, “There is a group of voters who voted for Modi in 2014 but are not voting for the BJP this time. It is these voters who’re staying home and are tipping the scales”. After fielding Ajai Rai, instead of Priyanka Gandhi from Varanasi, the political battle between BJP and Congress is not much to be watched out for. However, SP-BSP alliance candidate, Shalini Yadav can swing large number of votes in favor of her party, creating a significant variation in political magnitude. In a nutshell, winning Varanasi constituency wouldn’t be an easy ride for BJP. Modi cannot rely on the upper-caste Hindu semiotics. Each displaced votes of the minorities will be a hard blow on BJP’S vote bank.PM Narendra Modi, who came into power in 2014 with a vision to transform India, 23rd May 2019 would be his judgement day. With his failure of governance in generating employment, increased farmers’ crisis, corporate bailouts, failed demonetization policy, increase in national debt etc, the nation would assess Modi’s performance. The clock is ticking!
Parul Verma is a political commentator