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Why Varanasi is key to winning the final battle

By Pathikrit

The theatre of the battle seems to have shifted to Varanasi, one of the holiest places in India. The news of possibility of Modi's candidature from Varanasi had been doing round for quite some time. But now that it has been confirmed and that eventually Murli Manohar Joshi agreed to concede that seat to BJP's Prime Ministerial Candidate, brings a new dimension to the whole dynamics of BJP's approach to this election. In the hindsight one may also wonder why Varanasi was chosen.

The Electoral Importance of Uttar Pradesh

Fact of the matter remains that Uttar Pradesh is the most critical state of the country so far as electoral dynamics of the Indian national elections are concerned. With 80 Lok Sabha seats at stake, no political party can even fathom of having an unchallenged rein at the Centre without a robust number of seats from Uttar Pradesh. Any political party which does exceedingly well in Uttar Pradesh alone can automatically get catapulted to the national limelight even if that party has no mass base in other states of India.

Be it the Congress or the BJP, the reason why neither could have an unchallenged sway in the governments they formed in the last couple of decades is because of their extremely limited influence in Uttar Pradesh which during the same period witnessed the massive rise of influential regional parties like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Uttar Pradesh being home to around 20 crore people have massive caste and religious diversities as well as several other dynamics which gave ample opportunity to the emergence of identity based politics.

BJP's wrestling power back at the Centre depends on its performance in UP

While Samajwadi Party thrived on their core support base of Yadavs and Muslims, Bahujan Samaj Party consolidated itself among the scheduled Castes and Brahmin voters. Likewise the Jat votes of west UP have been with Rashtriya Lok Dal for quite some time now. Over the last couple of decades, the biggest casualty of this identity based politics in Uttar Pradesh has been the dwindling base of both Congress and BJP. However, things may be altogether different this time.

BJP's national fortune linked to its rise in UP again

BJP's calculation of wrestling power back from Congress at the Centre essentially depends on its performance in Uttar Pradesh. Over the last couple of years, one could witness a slow but significant shift in the pattern of voter consolidation in Uttar Pradesh. Several factors have contributed to breaking of the caste barriers and consolidation of votes, the signs of which are evident now as the opinion polls suggesting that even on a conservative estimate, BJP may end up winning more than 40 seats out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP. There is a pertinent trend of a possible revival of fortune of BJP in UP riding on the Modi wave. It for sure that if BJP eventually ends up winning a large number of seats in UP, then much of this would be because of the Modi factor.

Besides, sheer mismanagement of the state by Akhilesh Yadav regime in UP, a near breakdown of law & order, inability to control communal riots, lack of economic growth and utter exasperation of the populace with the high handedness of the ruling party's satraps who wield tremendous power and are a law unto themselves have all contributed to the rise of the Modi wave in UP. It is perhaps to consolidate this wave into real time vote that BJP has decided to field Modi from Varanasi. It is for sure that BJP for the next few weeks would have a trailblazer of rallies in UP and pitch Modi as UP's candidate for the next Lok Sabha.

The Ripple Effect of Varanasi is not just restricted to Uttar PRadesh

The critical importance of Varanasi as a Lok Sabha seat is not just for the sake of Uttar Pradesh. Modi's candidature from Varanasi is bound to give a fillip to BJP's effort to consolidate its position in the Hindi heartland of India. Modi's candidature from Varanasi would surely have considerable impact on many of the other adjacent states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand as well. Nevertheless, Varanasi's appeal as a holy place has its impact not just in the Hindi heartland but also spreads across the length and breadth of India including south, west and east India.

However, the above mentioned states in addition to Uttar Pradesh have a combined seat of around 175 in Lok Sabha and apart from Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, where BJP is expected to do well, it is these 5 states which would seal the fate of BJP and Modi in the election. If they do well here, NDA would cruise to power with ease. From hardcore electoral point of view, this decision may be considered as an extremely calibrated and calculated one.

And Here Comes Kejriwal: Will He Make a Difference?

Arvind Kejriwal's sudden announcement of his possible contesting against Narendra Modi is bound to add more spice to the already spiced up national elections of 2014.

Initially Kejriwal reserved his decision till 23rd of March when he was supposed to have his rally in Varanasi and usual to the AAP style planned to take opinion of the people on whether he should fight from Varanasi against Modi. Incidentally 23rdMarch is the death anniversary of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and one wonders if Arvind Kejriwal had planned to project himself a sort of a martyr by taking the decision of contesting against Modi in Varanasi where the possibility of Kejriwal creating any kind of impact remains extremely limited, primarily because Varanasi is no Delhi, Narendra Modi is no Sheila Dikhsit and moreover voting on caste lines may not happen this time.

Nevertheless, as fate would have it, because of the legislative council elections, his rally in Varanasi has been postponed to 25th March, perhaps thus to certain extent denying him the chance of playing the Bhagat Singh card on 23rd of March.

A massive consolidation of pro-Modi votes beyond caste barriers might make it extremely difficult for Kejriwal to create an impact. It is highly unlikely that the Varanasi contest in 2014 would have any similarity with that of 2009 election when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi of BJP won on an unimpressive margin. However, nothing is surprising so far as Indian politics is concerned and it would be interesting to see as to whether Varanasi would become a direct Modi versus Kejriwal contest or other parties including Congress and Samajwadi would eventually pitch their candidates from Varanasi as well.

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