Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Battle of Varanasi

The BJP's Prime Minister Candidate Narendra Modi filed his nomination papers from his second constituency, Varanasi, with possibly the largest show of strength in the history of the temple town. The entire city was covered in saffron-clad supporters of Modi, who traveled with the crowd to the District Collector's office to file his nomination.

Varanasi is becoming the main battleground of Elections 2014 as a record number of candidates, including dummy candidates named Narendra to fool voters (a similar strategy was adopted by the MIM in Hyderabad in 2009 to defeat the TDP candidate), are set to contest. However, it can all be summed as a fight between Narendra Modi and everyone else, who are looking at every possible trick to stop his juggernaut which seems set to form the next government in New Delhi.

The Congress has virtually capitulated in this by not fielding a prominent face. Of course, it would have been foolish to have pitted a Gandhi against Modi (because it is obvious that there is no competition, or a huge risk of a very embarrassing defeat in any case). In any case, Rahul Gandhi seems to be having a hard enough time as it is in Amethi, with Smriti Irani surprisingly putting up a good fight. But by not sending one of its big leaders, the Congress has left the arena.

The AAP though has put its money where its mouth is and has pitted Arvind Kejriwal himself against Modi. With Kejriwal's single-biggest political achievement being his stunning victory over Sheila Dixit in the New Delhi constituency, he is a force to reckon with. Subsequent events in Delhi have blunted his edge somewhat but nonetheless, Kejriwal connects well with people. In the end however, Varanasi is not Delhi and the lack of a local base in the city will certainly hamper him.

Other parties are resorting to the one and only trick that they have - spooking minorities (read: Muslims) in the hope that they vote en bloc. However, if reports from the ground are be believed, even an absolute Muslim consolidation against Modi will not stop him because he enjoys such huge popularity. His roadshow was formidable and far ahead of what Rahul Gandhi managed to muster in Amethi. If pundits are to be believed, Kejriwal will not be going to Parliament this time and Modi will win from Varanasi. Whether he chooses to keep this or Vadodara is another matter. 

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