Banning Modi's Varanasi rally: His rivals have lessons to learn

From the perspective of the BJP, it was a masterly counter strategy.

Namely turning Varanasi District Magistrate/Returning Officer Pranjal Yadav’s order of not allowing Narendra Modi to campaign in his constituency into an emotive issue, which would impact not just Varanasi but also the 17 seats in Poorvanchal and six seats in Bihar that will go to polls on 12 May.

It is in fact other parties which should blame the Returning Officer, and in turn the CEC for having given Modi and his team the opportunity to turn what seems to be an administrative matter, into a huge electoral issue.

The promptness with which the BJP, led by Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi crafted the strategy of playing the victim card completely flummoxed rival political outfits.

They couldn’t do much apart from blaming the BJP for playing politics. But to be fair to the BJP, it only did what any political party does during an election season.

The off-the-record or unofficial version of events by the district administration is reportedly that Beniabagh (where Modi was due to hold his rally) is adjacent to a densely populated Muslim locality. If that is indeed the case, the BJP has all the more reason to take offence. Should the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate not have the right or the duty to communicate to the Muslim electorate, particularly when he has been accused of having alienated this very community?

Modi has been railing against the EC with great success: PTI

Modi has been railing against the EC with great success: PTI

It is also the duty of the state administration and the Election Commission to ensure a level playing field for all political parties in a free, fair and secure environment.

If a candidate with Modi’s profile can’t be allowed to reach out to his electorate for security reasons then it speaks volume of the prevailing internal security scenario. Senior BJP leaders have rightly pointed out that security is a ludicrous excuse, especially given that there has also been campaigning in terror affected areas of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as in Naxal affected areas.

The other reason why the BJP's charges against the RO and the EC gain greater credibility, is because while Modi was denied permission to hold a rally, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Vice President (going by the assumption that a man with SPG protection would always have greater threat perception than one with Z plus protection) was allowed to have a road show in Varanasi on the 10th evening, around the time campaigning closes for the last phase of polling.

While nobody can grudge Rahul Gandhi’s or Akhilesh Yadav’s or Arvind Kejriwal's right to campaign on any day within permissible hours, the BJP can certainly grudge denial of the same right to their leader.

The BJP has succeeded in smartly turning the issue in their favour. So far it was Modi versus all other 'secular forces'. But the DM’s rather absurd order and the fact that the EC meekly allowed it to happen, has taken the issue to a different level among Modi’s supporters and sympathizers. The perception is that the EC is also working in a partisan manner to attain the same purpose.

The allegations may be completely unfounded, but the BJP has succeeded in propagating this message to a vast mass of people.

In the wake of the EC's unusual promptness in getting two FIRs lodged against Modi for taking a selfie while displaying the BJP lotus symbol on voting day in Gujarat, the BJP's allegations that the EC is biased against Modi has found many takers.

Added to that is the EC’s failure to tell people of its fairness in conducting polls in Amethi where both the BJP and AAP kept lodging complaints against Congress, including pictures of Rahul Gandhi physical inspecting EVMs.

From an aggressor Modi has suddenly turned into a victim, seeking popular sympathy. But with Modi his rivals can never be sure of his next move. He is playing a victim but rather aggressively, not just to gain sympathy but to arouse anger among his believers.

In a rally in Azamgarh, from where Mulayam Singh Yadav is contenting elections, Modi charged the EC with failing to do its duty in preventing silent booth capturing and rigging despite being warned. He in effect blamed the EC of acting in a partisan way when complaints of booth capturing were pouring in during the last three phases in UP, West Bengal and parts of Bihar.

That was a most serious charge.

The situation has in many ways shaped into a Modi versus EC fight. Modi’s party colleague Arun Jaitley who sat on Satyagraha was unusually scathing in his attack against the EC. “I cannot conceal my disappointment with the Election Commission. Men in constitutional offices need to be bolder. Timid men can dwarf high offices.”

Protests in Varanasi against the EC ruling: PTI

Protests in Varanasi against the EC ruling: PTI

“They are extremely vigilant in tackling the side shows in the elections. They are concerned with what adjectives are used by whom. But when it comes to preventing booth capturing which has reappeared after a decade in elections 2014 they are out of their depth. By condoning the Returning Officer’s stand on ‘No-Modi rally’ in Varanasi city the Election Commission has used the security card to prevent Narendra Modi’s right to campaign in his constituency. If you can’t ensure security, don’t hold the polls in the country. But if you do hold the polls please provide a level playing field. You cannot deny the candidate the right to campaign. Rahul Gandhi can have a road show in Varanasi but Narendra Modi cannot have a rally. The security card is selectively used”, Jaitley said.

Varanasi is seeing a much bigger drama than it would otherwise seen if Modi had been allowed to hold a rally in the city.

His landing in Varanasi has now become a mega event, only comparable to his own road show when he filed his nomination on 24 April.

He hit the Varanasi roads, this time without seeking the RO’s permission. The irony is the RO could not do anything about it, given that Modi was only going to his party office from the BHU helipad to meet his party workers. A five-six kilometre long ride, of which every single inch was filled with his supporters.

Publicly BJP leaders may be raving and ranting, but privately they are thankful to the EC for presenting them a wonderful opportunity.

Updated Date: May 08, 2014 19:22 PM

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