Uttar Pradesh 2017

It will be a rocky ride for BJP in Varanasi

Demonetisation and lack of infrastructure may hit the saffron party’s prospects in Varanasi.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

A loquacious Ahmed Quraishi discusses politics as he rides his cycle-rickshaw in the narrow, potholed lanes of Varanasi, taking this correspondent towards Nai Sarak, which abuts localities with a strong Muslim presence.

“Mahadev BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) se khisiya gaye hain (Lord Shiva is annoyed with the BJP),” he says with a grin, exuding the characteristic humour residents of Varanasi take much pride in.

The city will vote emphatically for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, he declares.

Residents in Madanpura and Habibpura — localities with strong Muslim populations — have a similar take. They say Mr. Yadav has done much work for the State, though they are unable to specify the work when asked. But there is an unmistakable goodwill.

Upper castes support the BJP in good measure, which keeps the party in the race despite the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress alliance. While one sees a diversity of opinions even among upper castes at Assi Chauraha — a place where educated professionals converge over tea each evening — support for the BJP among the upper castes sharpens as one comes across the poorer sections within.

However, some say that the saffron party may have erred in its candidate selection in Varanasi, offering the SP-Congress alliance a chance to outsmart it.

An example: denying ticket to seven-time MLA Shyamdeo Roy Choudhary, the BJP has fielded newcomer Neelkanth Tiwari against the alliance’s Rajesh Mishra, an ex-MP who was defeated by Murli Manohar Joshi in 2009.

Some among the upper castes agree that demonetisation may dampen the BJP’s prospects, though most defend it. For Muslims, however, demonetisation has been a disastrous decision. They also cite the lack of infrastructure in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency.

“There has been a lot of digging of roads in the last two years, but very little of filling them up,” Akhlaq Khan of Madanpura says, flashing a paan-stained grin.

Muslims in Varanasi are backing the SP-Congress alliance. However, this may not indicate a State-wise trend as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been somewhat weak here in the past, too.

“The alliance is good for the State. Akhilesh Yadav takes everyone along. And the rise of the Congress is good as a future check on the BJP,” says Mohammad Faizan from Habibpura.

Stronger together

The SP-Congress alliance does strengthen both the parties, offering them a chance to reverse the BJP’s extant advantage on some seats.

Sipping a steaming cup of tea at Assi, Surendra Srivastava says, “The BJP won this seat (Varanasi Cantonment) the last time, with the Congress standing second and the SP third. If SP and Congress votes combine, the alliance has a real chance of winning this time.”

The SP won the Sewapuri and Rohania Assembly seats here last time, and still seems strong, with the alliance adding to its strength.

The BJP won Varanasi South and North last time, two seats where it has steady support. But the denial of ticket to the sitting MLA seems to have opened up Varanasi South to a keen contest.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 10:29:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-2017/It-will-be-a-rocky-ride-for-BJP-in-Varanasi/article17290211.ece

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