The otherwise boring contest in the holy city just got a little interesting.
In a dramatic turn of events, on Monday, the Samajwadi Party replaced its Varanasi Lok Sabha candidate Shalini Yadav with the Border Security Force constable Tej Bahadur Yadav.
Tej Bahadur (43), who had filed his nomination as an independent candidate last week, days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s road show and nomination, filed fresh nomination paper as Samajwadi Party candidate Monday afternoon in the presence of senior party leaders.
Shalini Yadav, who quit Congress and joined Samajwadi Party last week to take on Modi, is expected to withdraw from the contest.
Varanasi will go to polls in the seventh phase on May 19 and the last date for filing nomination was Monday (April 29).
“I am the real Chowkidar who protected the boundaries of the country for 21 years but was sacked for raising the corruption issue in the Armed forces. Chowkidar prefix doesn’t suit PM Modi. I want to defeat those who play politics in the name of Army. My sole objective will be to strengthen and eliminate corruption in the forces,” he said after being nominated by the SP.
Tej Bahadur, a Bhiwani (Mahendragarh, Haryana) resident, had announced in March that he would contest against Modi because he wants to eliminate corruption in the forces.
His candidature from SP has come as a big surprise for everyone including the BJP. Despite weaker candidates, Modi’s team is sweating out in Varanasi only to ensure that his past election record is maintained, if not improved. “Even a small slide would be embarrassing for the PM and BJP both. Bahadur and SP’s campaign in the next 20 days will be crucial for our targets,” admits a senior BJP leader.
Bahadur, who lost his job and only son, is now a farmer
Tej Bahadur belongs to Yadav community of the other backward caste, just as PM Modi. He studied till Standard 10 and has mentioned agriculture as his profession in his election affidavit, which also declares that his wife has a private job.
His affidavit says Bahadur and his wife have total assets worth Rs 20 lakh, which includes Rs 30,000 in cash, Rs 2.43 lakh in bank and Rs 6 lakh as NSC, jewellery worth Rs 80,000, agriculture land worth Rs 9 lakh and a Bajaj bike and a scooty.
In January 2019, Tej Bahadur’s teenaged son was found dead. With his candidature, SP seeks to corner BJP using the same weapon-nationalism and patriotism that BJP and Modi have been sharpening for long. Several people including AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal lauded Akhilesh Yadav social media for nominating a Jawan against PM.
What happened in 2017?
A video featuring Tej Bahadur in Army fatigue went viral in which he complained about the watery dal and burnt rotis served to soldiers. The video had more than 70 lakh views after it was shared on social media, prompting the Prime Minister’s Office to ask for a report.
He was then serving as a BSF constable of 29 Battalion at Mandi Mandir headquarters and was posted at the administration base in Khet near the Line of Control in Poonch district along the Indo-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir. Tej Bahadur had further alleged that the senior officials illegally sold off the food supplies meant for the troops. He also said he was “mentally tortured” and had expressed apprehension that his seniors may take action against him for exposing the condition of soldiers on the border.
The video triggered outrage across the nation, but the BSF dismissed his allegations. Tej Bahadur was dismissed from the service by the Summary Security Force Court at Samba after he was found guilty of violating the SOP (standard operating procedure). The charges against him included carrying two mobile phones while on active duty and posting his photographs in uniform on social media.
After dismissal, Yadav claimed that he was asked to apply for retirement and the trail was pre-meditated. “I wasn’t given a fair trial. I wanted to call colleagues as witnesses but they never allowed me to call them. The entire court martial proceeding was an eyewash,” he had said.
Bahadur’s entry has revived interest in an otherwise dull contest
Varanasi has been BJP’s bastion for the last 25 years, barring 2004, and has seen hard-fought electoral battles that have sometimes resulted in very close calls. This time, the contest was being dubbed a bore and one-sided since both the Opposition parties had fielded weak candidates against Modi by virtually giving the PM a walkover. Tej Bahadur’s has come as a surprise, which will surely make this contest a little more interesting.
Senior journalist of a national daily, Dinesh Chandra Mishra, who is based in Varanasi, says, “Tej Bahadur is a far better candidate that Shalini Yadav. The way he has projected himself as a real chowkidar after filing nomination and sought to debunk PM Modi’s claim of being Chowkidar will surely electrify the campaign.”
Not everyone echoes the sentiments. “Bahadur’s emotive campaign might bag him a good number of voters denting the BJP and Congress vote banks both. Yet, he may not be able to defeat mighty Modi and BJP who are spending crores of rupees in election campaign,” says a government official requesting anonymity.
Prof AK Joshi, Head of the Sociology Department at Banaras Hindu University says, “By fielding an outsider Tej Bahadur, Samajwadi Party has actually strengthened the Modi’s candidature. Had Priyanka been in the fray from Congress, she could have made some difference as Muslim, Brahmins, women and youngsters would have supported her.”
Prof Joshi fears that voting percentage in Varanasi could drop this time because of lack of enthusiasm among voters, thanks to the poor show by Opposition parties.
Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, Professor of Electronics at IIT-BHU and Mahant of Sankat Mochan Temple, says, “It is not going to make any difference in terms of merit. Of course, Tej Bahadur will ensure that the SP-BSP alliance will be number 2 in the race. People have lost interest in the elections of Varanasi.”
He adds, “This election is itself an eye wash. No real issues are discussed in public meetings. Everyone talks about patriotism only. All ministers holding important portfolios are not contesting. Why?”
Traditionally, BJP has been winning a large section of the upper caste votes. The Lok Sabha constituency has around 18 lakh voters. Muslims form the largest block of voters with around 3.2 lakh voters, followed by Brahmins who account for 3 lakh. OBCs, Kayasth, Vaishya also have big chunks.
In 2014, Modi defeated Aam Aadmi Party chief and the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal by a huge margin of 3.37 lakh votes.