In Varanasi, the question still is: will it be Narendra Modi or Murli Manohar Joshi? The politically aware citizenry continues to discuss the topic even after Dr. Joshi broke his silence, saying that as a disciplined soldier of the BJP, he would obey the party if it asks him to shift to Kanpur.
At a crowded tea stall in the Chowk area, Saurabh Tiwari, a student at Banaras Hindu University, bids for Dr. Joshi. “A leader of Joshi’s stature should be treated with more respect and allowed to contest from where he wants,” he says even while expressing unhappiness with the work done by the leader as MP.
Ajay Kumar, a cement dealer, argues in favour of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. “If senior leaders like Joshi do not pave the way for younger leaders, what message will go to the public? Joshi should accept fate and assume the role of a guide now. Other people should get a chance. He should not create obstacles. Given the hype, Modi is bound to do something for his seat. It is in the national interest.”
The tea-stall owner, Jaiprakash Yadav, wants a third alternative. “We are fed up with these high-profile candidates from outside. We need a local candidate who will deal with our issues, not just national politics. Modi or Joshi, it hardly makes a difference. Look for yourself, during his term Joshi has not made his mark; we have nothing to remember from his tenure,” he says.
While this sense of mystery over the BJP candidate prevails in Varanasi, in Allahabad, Dr. Joshi’s home-turf, the sporting fraternity is overjoyed after the Congress picked cricketer Mohammed Kaif for the Phulpur seat.
The seat gave the country its first Prime Minister when Jawaharlal Nehru won it in 1952, but the party has failed to win it since 1984.
Reacting to the decision, the sporting fraternity of Allahabad, Mr. Kaif’s home town, came out in his support. His brother Asif said the family was overjoyed at his candidature and was now gearing up for campaigning. Senior cricketer Shoaib Kamal, who has trained Mr. Kaif, said the entire sporting fraternity of Allahabad, under which the constituency comes, will support the player. “Everybody is happy that a player has entered the political field,” he said.
Calling politics a “second innings,” Mr. Kaif dismissed the idea that he would quit the game, and hoped to be equally “successful” in both fields.
Devesh Mishra, Allahabad University coach who trained Mr. Kaif in his younger days, however, feels the cricketer took the plunge into politics “a bit too early.” But he believes that given his “popularity,” Mr. Kaif could upset the odds in a highly contested constituency, currently held by the Bahujan Samaj Party.
“He could have played a bit more, a couple of years maybe. The condition of the cricket team is not so good so he could have got a call up. But we are hopeful, if he takes care of the political management bit,” Mr. Mishra said while remembering young Kaif as a regular, devoted and hardworking player.
Mr. Kaif is a member of the Uttar Pradesh Ranji Cricket Team. He has represented India in one-dayers and Test matches.