After months of speculation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to field its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, Modi is also contesting from Vadodara in his home state Gujarat.
Clearly, the choice of Varanasi for Modi holds strategic and symbolic significance for the BJP.
It is widely expected that Modi’s nomination from Varanasi will positively affect the outcome for the BJP in a number of other seats in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which are electorally important as together the two states send 120 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha. Further, the choice of Varanasi is also symbolic in nature which indicates that the party may not have completely abandoned the Hindutva ideology.
However, the symbolism of Varanasi is not limited to the BJP alone. Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has now decided to contest from Azamgarh as well, which is close to Varanasi and has its own importance in terms of its large Muslim population. Yadav had earlier decided to contest only from the Mainpuri seat. Clearly, this is a symbolic move by Yadav who is once again keen to prove his secular credentials to attract Muslim voters in the state.
The story doesn’t end here. Earlier it was suggested that in order to avoid the division of “secular votes”, parties opposing the BJP should put up a common candidate against Modi. But the idea did not cut much ice as all parties are keen to field their candidates against the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. This again highlights the act of symbolism on the part of the political parties as they do not want to be seen as compromising on the issue of secularism by not posing a challenge to Modi and the BJP.
As a result, the Congress party, SP, and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are ready to field candidates against Modi. It is interesting to note that even the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is reported to be planning to field a candidate against Modi in Varanasi.
Another act of symbolism in the making is that of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which will hold a rally on 25 March in Varanasi in order to seek the opinion of the people of the city on whether its leader Arvind Kejriwal should contest against Modi or not. Kejriwal is most likely to get their consent as his supporters would like their leader to contest from what is going to be the most high-profile constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP won the seat by a margin of 17,211 votes with Mukhtar Ansari of the BSP in second position. Ansari, who has now formed his own party, will once again challenge the BJP in Varanasi.
Therefore, in a multi-cornered battle in Varanasi with all parties looking to score points, making for a divided house, the BJP will probably walk away with the seat. But in this battle of symbolism, apart from Varanasi, who gains what will only be revealed on 16 May.