The sheer mention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi once again on Sunday by Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi while on a visit to far off Silchar in Assam has brought cheers among Congressmen in the oldest city that Varanasi has always been thought to be.
This is more so since Congress circles in the holy city have already been agog with the possibility of Priyanka challenging Modi from Varanasi in polls billed for May 19 after she indicated this last month during one of her visits to her mother and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s constituency Raebareli. In between Priyanka had visited Varanasi too.
In the wake of her April 14 road-show in Congress MP Sushmita Dev’s constituency in Assam where the former pointed out Modi’s inability to spare time to visit any of his constituents home in Varanasi in past five years this reporter spoke to Dr Satish Rai who is an old Congressman from Varanasi. He runs Rajiv Gandhi Study Circle in the city after his retirement from Kashi Vidyapeeth where he taught Political Science for several years.
“Priyanka’s entry in the electoral battle for Varanasi, if it is going to be so, can well prove to be a historic turning point as was the case in 1980 or even bigger than that. The late Indira Gandhi’s choice for Varanasi Kamlapati Tripathi humbled Raj Narain who had only three years before that, or in 1977, defeated Indiraji. So who knows what fate may have in store for the person who challenges Modi. Last time the Prime Minister had won against a badly divided Opposition. This may well change if he is to face a single candidate from Opposition now. And if it is to be Priyanka Gandhi against Modi the challenge will certainly be far more stupendous before him in Varanasi than what Arvind Kejriwal could offer Modi five years ago. Besides, Kejriwal Congress and BSP too had put candidates against the BJP’s bet for the post of Prime Minister in 2014.”
Dr Rai is of the view that votes were vertically divided among Modi’s three main opponents in 2014. Besides none of them had had “charisma and powerful legacy in politics” like Priyanka has. For her Varanasi could well become an ideal starting point as her candidature against Prime Minister may bring other opposition parties support to the Congress in the fight for the crucial Lok Sabha seat. This could also make the contest in Varanasi more focused than before. Modi will have to spend more time in the constituency and this may in turn benefit not only the Congress but also opposition parties in general throughout the country, says the former Vidyapeeth, or university, don.
Modi had got 581022 votes against Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal’s 209238 in 2014 polls in Varanasi. Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party candidates could corner only less than a lakh of votes each. Thus, the last poll’s numbers are heavily stacked in favour of PM. Yet, Dr Rai argues that a joint candidate brought by Opposition could well tilt the scales because of the last five year’s Modi rule which has been far from satisfactory.
Asked about the likely entry of Priyanka in the electoral fray for Varanasi and its possible fallout vis-à-vis UP politics the editor of the city-based Hindi daily Janmukh Brajesh Rai said that Dr Satish Rai would know better.
Earlier on a visit to Delhi, a socialist leader and former president of students union of Banaras Hindu University Shiv Kumar had said that a single candidate supported by all opposition parties against Modi in Varanasi could generally and Priyanka mainly turn the contest into a battle that may well “redefine and change course of politics”.