Mandate 2024: The view from Varanasi - Hindustan Times
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Mandate 2024: The view from Varanasi

May 26, 2024 11:04 PM IST

The presence of the Prime Minister as a candidate enlivens the contest in Uttar Pradesh’s Purvanchal region

I am writing this piece from Kashi, which, being the Prime constituency for the past 10 years, has drawn great national and international attention.

**EDS: IMAGE VIA @BJP4INDIA** Varanasi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Nari Shakti Sammelan in Varanasi, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI05_21_2024_000317B)(PTI) PREMIUM
**EDS: IMAGE VIA @BJP4INDIA** Varanasi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Nari Shakti Sammelan in Varanasi, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI05_21_2024_000317B)(PTI)

The Prime Minister (PM) has built a rapport with Kashiwasis (residents of Kashi), and so, does not see any significant challenge, says Rinku, who owns a kiosk in front of Banaras Locomotive Works. Rinku needs to relocate his kiosk for the length of the PM’s visit just as dozens of other such businesses have to. But, he says, he can do that much for the PM —and he is not the only person willing to make such sacrifices for Narendra Modi.

Last Tuesday, sometime before the PM’s visit to Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya, I noticed a group of women waiting behind a police barricade along the route. When I spoke with them, I gathered that they were from Shivdaspur and had originally wanted to meet Modiji at the university. But owing to the security arrangements for the PM’s visit, they could not make it to the university in time. So, despite the scorching summer heat, they had decided to wait for the PM to pass by. I told them it could take a long time for the PM to come. “No problem, now that we’ve left the house, we thought we’d wave to him and greet him,” they said. In areas such as Karaundi, the clearing of encroachments for the widening of a road has left some people outraged. Nonetheless, the wider road benefits a huge number of commuters.

The Congress’s Ajay Rai is pitted against Modi in Kashi. Rai is the party’s state president and an established political figure. He is looking to narrow the margin of defeat by as much as possible.

Kashi has traditionally flown with opposing political currents. Tea and paan stalls in this city are venues of heated discussions among people of different political hues — communists, socialists and nationalists. These people forge the spearheads of resistance that can determine victory or defeat. Chakraborty Moshay of Agastkunda says satirically: “Don’t fall into their trap; no matter what they say, in the end they would only vote for Modi.”

I don’t even remember the names of the other contenders here. Athar Jamal Lari is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate in Kashi. But he is nowhere in the discourse.

Varanasi is known as the capital of Purvanchal, a region that includes 11 other Lok Sabha seats. The electoral battle is fierce in each seat. In Chandauli, which is part of Varanasi district, for instance, Mahendranath Pandey is trying his luck again. Pandey is a member of the Modi cabinet and has previous administrative and organisational experience. He is being challenged by Virendra Singh of the INDIA bloc. Singh, a former minister of Uttar Pradesh, is contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket.

Anupriya Patel, another minister in the Modi cabinet, is fighting from neighbouring Mirzapur. She is the daughter of Apna Dal founder Soneylal Patel and the president of Apna Dal (Soneylal). Ramesh Bind of the INDIA bloc is challenging her. Both Anupriya and Pandey are fighting for the honour of their cabinet posts.

Meanwhile, Laliteshpati Tripathi in Bhadohi and Neeraj Shekhar in Ballia face a tough fight to maintain their legacies. Tripathi is the great-grandson of Pandit Kamalapati Tripathi, a former acting president of the Congress, and Neeraj is the son of former PM Chandra Shekhar. Lalitesh, a Trinamool Congress candidate, is backed by the INDIA grouping, while Neeraj is a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate.

Muscle power is also a factor that comes into play in two other Purvanchal constituencies. Afzal Ansari, elder brother of the late Mukhtar Ansari, who was known as a mafia king, is also contesting the election from Ghazipur. Similarly, Dhananjay Singh of Jaunpur is backing the BJP after the BSP denied his wife Srikala Reddy a ticket. In Azamgarh, Akhilesh Yadav’s cousin Dharmendra Yadav has the tough task of retaking the legacy seat. The mandates for Azamgarh, Lalganj, Jaunpur, Machhlishahr, and Bhadohi are already sealed in EVMs, while the fight for the remaining seats continues. Although no one is talking about Robertsganj, Machhalishahar, or Lalganj, I was saddened to witness the pathetic state of the first. I’ll go into more depth about this another time. However, the fight for these seats is equally fierce.

The message is clear: There is a fierce fight for every seat in Purvanchal except Kashi. If it is muscle power at stake in one; in others, it is legacy or the prestige of a ministerial post. The results on June 4 will not only determine victory or defeat but will also establish a new political trend in Purvanchal.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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