The BJP released its first list of 184 candidates for 20 States for the Lok Sabha election, with Narendra Modi slated to fight from Varanasi and party President Amit Shah also getting into the battle ring from Gandhinagar, represented six times by LK Advani. The party retained most sitting MPs, the biggest drop in Uttar Pradesh with six candidates replaced in a list of 28. In all, 24 sitting MPs have been dropped. Meanwhile, the first thing to be noticed is that Modi is contesting for BJP and against him, there is a huge list of contenders. One of them is Border Security Force jawan who was posted along the Line of Control and was dismissed from the paramilitary force after he complained about the poor rations the BSF provides its soldiers. Yadav alleged that the higher-ups in the BSF were “selling off” rations meant for the soldiers illegally, leaving soldiers to suffer. Yadav is going to contest as an independent candidate, despite many parties have approached him. He believes former servicemen and farmers will be his main allies in the campaign.
A group of 111 farmers will file their nominations from Varanasi this year. They are currently crowdsourcing funds for their campaign. They are reaching Varanasi on April 24, and have booked train tickets for 300 farmers. They will walk on the road undressed to show their resistance. This is the same group of farmers that has protested in Delhi a number of times, in ways designed to attract the attention of the so-called mainstream media which is apathetic to their issues. In 2017, they protested at Jantar Mantar carrying the skulls of farmers who had killed themselves due to indebtedness. They also protested carrying dead rats in their mouths to draw attention to starvation, malnourishment, and farmers getting inadequate prices for their produce.
Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ is the young leader of the Bhim Army, which started out as an organisation providing primary schooling to the primarily Dalit kids violently excluded from formal schools, but has grown into a formidable political force particularly in western UP. Ravan has been jailed a number of times by the state government, first under Akhilesh Yadav then under Ajay Singh Bisht alias Yogi Adityanath. The charges usually relate to national security and his popularity seems to have risen with each arrest. After wide speculation that he wouldn’t contest the 2019 polls, followed by speculation that he would ally his organisation with Mayawati’s BSP, Azad finally announced his candidature from Varanasi last month on a Bhim Army ticket. After his latest arrest last month, for alleged violations of the Election Commission’s model code of conduct, several senior Congress leaders including Jyotiraditya Scindia and PG Vadra visited Azad.
The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are yet to declare a candidate for the seat. The Congress has announced a number of candidates from UP but none for Varanasi. Congress General Secretary and eastern Uttar Pradesh in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has smilingly hinted to the press that she may contest from there. AAP has announced 6 out of 7 candidates from Delhi among whom Kejriwal doesn’t figure. Meanwhile, Togadia, who had floated Hindustan Nirman Dal (HND), wants to fight against Modi.
Last week I was in Varanasi and got a chance to interact with several local people like the boatman on the ghat, shopkeepers, and auto rickshaw drivers. I was keen to visit places worth seeing and get a feel of the city and its culture. However people generally looked keen to comment on Modi without even being asked. Incidentally, the driver who showed us around for three days was a Muslim gentleman probably in his early 20s and was no admirer of PM Modi. He held his opinion on most issues, criticized all parties for dividing society, and called people fools for falling for propaganda. He even went on to say that Ram Mandir should be built in Ayodhya that would at least build some confidence between the two communities. He criticised former PM Chandra Shekhar for his foreign policy and VP Singh for Mandal Commission. About the current one, he said, ‘He talks too much! He cries wherever he goes. It seems in his childhood, his mother didn’t let him cry. The changes you see are mere cosmetic. Main streets have been uplifted because Modi asks the videos to be sent to him to see the weekly progress. See, no videos of this neglected corner are sent. Know what! A lot of funds have been poured for the development of Varanasi, but are not used for the same and instead, those funds have made some rich.’
The man who showed me the Ghats and Aarti, lights and prayers on the Ganges, told me many positive changes that have taken place since PM Modi came to power. He said that he has lately seen many officers working hard like never before. With obvious pride, he said that Narendra Modi is his MP first and PM of the country later. He felt lucky to have seen many foreign dignitaries from close while working for livelihood. Then, the owner of a shop, a middle-aged gentleman, looked quite satisfied with the development work going on in the city but was apparently quite distressed over GST. Not that he minded paying taxes but he found the procedure far too complicated. People might criticise UP state government but they are staunchly with Modi. No one can stop Modi from winning elections in UP, no matter how many opposition candidates are lined up to fight against him.
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