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Home / Elections 2019 / Lok Sabha Elections 2019 /  Modi puts SP-BSP on notice with show of strength in Varanasi

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a massive roadshow in Varanasi on Thursday, a day before he is set to file nomination papers in the Lok Sabha elections for a second consecutive term from the holy city.

Varanasi residents turned out in large numbers to show their support for the PM, likely spelling bad news for the newly minted Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party alliance that is hoping to upset the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) applecart in Uttar Pradesh.

A sea of onlookers and supporters showered rose petals on Modi, who wore a saffron-coloured kurta, as his cavalcade meandered through the lanes of the city. Modi got over 581,000 votes in 2014, while his nearest rival, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, managed to get 209,000 votes.

The roadshow and the filing of nomination papers are also an attempt to show the strength of the ruling BJP in the eastern UP region, as several ministers and allies of the party are in Varanasi for the filing of nomination, expected on Friday.

BJP won 17 of the 18 Lok Sabha seats in the region in 2014, losing only Azamgarh to Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. It repeated the performance in the 2017 assembly polls, when it returned to power in Uttar Pradesh after a gap of 15 years.

BJP leaders said Modi visits Varanasi every few months and meets its residents. In the last five years, he had been to Varanasi at least 30 times, they said.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley tweeted that Modi’s roadshow that culminated with the customary Ganga aarti, “expresses only one indication"—that the PM “is well on the way of repeating or even increasing the 2014 victory margin".

“The Gandhis must introspect the plight of Amethi and Raebareli in the last 40 years and compare it to what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done in Varanasi in the past five years. Even a casual visitor to Varanasi would tell you the difference," he added.

Apart from senior leaders of the National Democratic Alliance, several senior BJP leaders, including party president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, railway minister Piyush Goyal and health minister J.P. Nadda, took part in the roadshow.

Having concluded a rally in Banda, Modi arrived in Varanasi to a reception by hundreds of thousands of people. The 6km-long roadshow started at Benaras Hindu University and concluded on the banks of the Ganga, after which he took part in the Ganga aarti,a daily ritual in Varanasi.

But Mayawati, chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party, told a public meeting in Kannauj: “This election will see the end of those chanting ‘NaMo, NaMo’ and pave the way for those who raise ‘Jai Bheem’. Seeing your response, it appears you are going to ensure the victory of alliance candidates."

Meanwhile, the Congress finally announced its candidate for Varanasi, ending weeks of speculation. It will be Ajai Rai, a senior Congress leader from Varanasi, rather than Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Although a large section of Congress leaders from Uttar Pradesh, especially those in the eastern part of the state, wanted Gandhi Vadra to contest against Modi, the final decision was taken by party president Rahul Gandhi.

Speculation on Gandhi Vadra making her electoral debut from Varanasi had been rife for the past few weeks.

“Deeply disappointed with the Congress Party’s decision of not fielding Priyanka Gandhi from Varanasi. The last two months that she has been in the public life has driven home the point, India has changed, dynasties don’t matter," Jaitley tweeted.

BJP’s decision to choose Varanasi as the constituency for Modi is part of a carefully-crafted strategy to mobilize support for the party in the region.

gyan.v@livemint.com

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