Battle Of Varanasi. Circa 2014

Kejriwal or Modi. Cynicism or hope. Who will the people of Varanasi vote for?

WrittenBy:Kunal Singh
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Mark Twain wrote about Varanasi, “Benaras [sic] is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. Varanasi has never been short of admirers, tourists and epithets that go along with it. People flock to Varanasi for different reasons. To study, pray, sight see, shop for Banarasi sarees. One would expect people of Varanasi to be enjoying life to the maximum. However, it is not so.

The most probable capital of Purvanchal (if Uttar Pradesh is divided into four states) is mired into political equations of its own. The local politicians have never seen Varanasi as a growth engine of the Purvanchal region. Varanasi has been a vehicle to push their political capital. Instead of making Varanasi realise its tourism and business potential, politicians have relentlessly focussed on realising their selfish political dreams. They have spent their entire lives counting the brahmins, the banias, the chamars and the musalmans. The dusty bylanes, the utterly polluted Ganga, the filthy streets have remained the same. Nobody cares, and consequently the demand for better civic management has also diminished.

With the announcement of Narendra Modi’s candidature there is a new hope amongst a large section of the population. The rhetoric of Ganga-Jamunatehzeeb has kept the city poor. Which is why the rhetoric of development comes as a pleasant surprise. The Hindutva agenda of Narendra Modi does not seem to clash with the development promise that he brings along. The people instead are welcoming what would seem a contradiction to the liberals of Lutyens Delhi. For the people of Varanasi, this is the ideal combination they could have hoped for- a sangam they had been longing forfordecades. People are loving the fact that the city is the cynosure of political pundits. The pilgrims and tourists kept thronging into the city, but that wasn’t enough to upgrade the city’s infrastructure. The new influx of national media might just trigger the flagged process.

It is almost certain that Arvind Kejriwal will contest from Varanasi. This reactionary move of Aam Aadmi Party is seen as dripping with cynicism. Cynicism has a short life in politics. The people of Varanasi had no choice till yesterday. Today they have two- in Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. NarendraModi, to the voters of Varanasi, symbolises hope, aspiration and pride. Hope because they have finally grabbed the attention of the whole of India. Aspiration because they feel that the time has come for Varanasi to rise up and be counted. Pride because one of the front runners in the Prime Ministerial race has chosen their city and they will have the privilege to vote not just for their local Member of Parliament, but also for the Prime Minister of the nation.

Then there is Arvind Kejriwal who symbolises cynicism and cynicism alone to the voters of Delhi. His move to Varanasi is not out of choice, but out of a desire to emerge a giant killer once again after defeating Sheila Dixit in Delhi. He has no promise to the city other than to prove that the promises of Narendra Modi are not genuine. His politics is negative much like the politics of the opponents of Indira Gandhi in 1971. The gas pricing issue and electoral funding by Adani and Ambani has hardly any political capital in Varanasi.

In spite of all that, electoral arithmetic implies that the ride of Modi from Varanasi will not be very smooth. There is speculation that Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party will withdraw their candidates and Congress will not field any if Kejriwal confirms his nomination from the city. The idea is to consolidate anti-Modi votes. In that case, the contest in Varanasi will be a triangular one between Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Mukhtar Ansari of the Quami Ekta Dal. The strongman of the region, Ansari fought the election last time as a BSP candidate and gave Murli Manohar Joshi a run for his money. In a constituency where more than 665,000 votes were polled, Joshi won by a margin of merely 17,000 votes. Ajay Rai, whose name is doing the rounds for the Congress ticket came third. Joshi would have lost the election had Ajay Rai not contested the election and divided the anti-BJP votes.

The Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency is made up of five Assembly constituencies – namely Varanasi Cantonment, Varanasi North, Varanasi South, Rohaniya and Sevapuri. While Joshi was the emphatic first choice of voters from the first three, he was relegated to fourth position by voters of Rohaniya and Sevapuri. Ansari topped from Rohaniya and Rai was second. The reverse happened in Sevapuri. Had the votes of Sevapuri also come to Ansari, in the absence of Rai, Joshi could have faced an embarrassing defeat.

Varanasi Cantonment, North and South are again certain to support Modi. The best chances for Kejriwal are from Rohaniya and Sevapuri. If he is able to supplant Rai (if Congress does not field him) in Sevapuri and displace Ansari from Rohaniya, he will give a good fight to Modi. Mukhtar Ansari is currently in Agra jail, so the cynicism of Arvind Kejriwal can work with the people of Rohaniya. The current MLAs in Sevapuri and Rohaniya are from Samajwadi Party and Apna Dal respectively. BJP candidates stood at dismal sixth and fourth positions respectively in the 2012 Assembly elections. Modi will hope that the aspirations and pride that his candidature ushers in will tilt the electoral arithmetic to his favour.

Hope and cynicism are set to take a dip in holy waters of Ganga. The dipstick of electoral arithmetic will determine which floats and which drowns.

Source of electoral data:


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