Senior BJP leaders believe that speculations linking Modi to U.P. area blantant attempt by the Congress to polarise minority votes

A leading English magazine recently talked of the Narendra Modi Fan Club (NMFC), an informal organisation working for the promotion of the Gujarat Chief Minister’s image, attempting to spread its wings in Uttar Pradesh.

The NMFC had played an important role in mobilising the support of Muslim youths in Gujarat, the magazine article quoted NMFC’s convener Khursheed Suma, and expected to do the same in U.P.

U.P. holds 80 Lok Sabha seats.

Despite the BJP keeping quiet on the prospect, Mr. Modi has been linked to Lucknow and Varanasi, seats now held by the BJP’s Lalji Tandon and Murli Manohar Joshi respectively. Another report claimed that he could contest from Sultanpur, which is close to the Congress bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli.

Responding to The Hindu’s query, a senior Congress leader said his party was looking to cash in on Muslims, who are “currently disenchanted with the Samajwadi Party [SP].” With the direct entry of Mr. Modi, the leader believes, Muslims would polarise much more fiercely to ensure a Congress win at the Centre. Notably, in the recent past, in U.P., while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the SP engage in a two-way tussle for power in the Assembly elections, in the general election, the Congress manages to win as many seats as them.

Asked who could be the likely coalition partner of the Congress in the State, he said since things were “not working out with the SP and BSP,” the Congress was not ruling out roping in “smaller parties.”

Both the SP and BSP also claim to be unfazed by Mr. Modi, despite speculations that his OBC credentials might be a game-changer in U.P. The two parties are confident the “Modi factor” will not work, especially in the crucial region of Purvanchal, where the BJP now has only two MPs out of its total of 10 in the State.

A senior SP leader said that while they were aware of Mr. Modi’s “OBC identity,” it would not have a negative impact on the SP’s vote bank. Citing the example of Karnataka, where despite numerous rallies of Mr. Modi and a high OBC population, the BJP was voted out of power, he said Mr. Modi was not yet on the party’s “agenda.”

“The secular voters in the State will vote for the party that is likely to defeat the BJP. Since the Congress is not in a position to win, they will surely vote for the SP,” he said.

If an anti-incumbency mood was setting in, he said, the party was confident of replicating its performance in the last Assembly elections. Another SP leader said, “If they think that fielding him [Modi] from Lucknow will be a game-changer, they must remember that a leader of the stature of Atalji [Atal Bihari Vajpayee] contested from Lucknow, but how have they fared in U.P.?”

The BSP also claims to be unnerved by the prospect of Mr. Modi’s entry. Outlining party supremo Mayawati’s stance, BSP U.P. chief Ram Achal Rajbhar said the party’s “fixed vote bank” would not be affected.

The parties also do not consider “wooing Brahmins” as a strategy to neutralise Mr. Modi.

Meanwhile, senior BJP leaders believe that speculations linking Mr. Modi to U.P. are a “blatant attempt by the Congress to polarise minority votes” in its favour. Keshari Nath Tripathi, senior leader and former Speaker of the U.P. Legislative Assembly, said: “It is too apparent that the Congress has raised this idea that he will contest from U.P. They feel they will make their position stronger by projecting him as PM.”

With the Muslim votes up for grabs, and likely to be polarised even more in favour of other parties if Mr. Modi is fielded from U.P., the BJP hopes of a reverse polarisation.

Despite such calculations, Mr. Tripathi believes the party should win a sizeable number of seats from the State, where the “current mindset favours” them.

“The people here are fed up of the SP and the Congress at the Centre. They want change and are vocally in favour of the BJP,” he said, while criticising the ruling SP for the “appalling law and order situation,” its “appeasement policy,” and the squandering of public money.

A member of the BJP’s national executive committee admitted that while intense work in the State had begun at the booth levels, the national executive meet in one or two months would make things clear about “such possibilities.”

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