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UP Election 2017: Modi's road shows in Varanasi may be last-ditch effort to take BJP closer to majority

Watching the Prime Minister of India go door-to-door for votes in an Assembly election is both amusing and confusing.

It is amusing because no prime minister in the history of India has resorted to street-nukkad politics for a few Assembly seats. But, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a 24x7 politician, a hands-on-campaigner who doesn't want to leave anything to chance, his unusual decision to hold two back-to-back street shows is understandable.

His decision is confusing because it sends out mixed signals about the BJP's chances in the polls. BJP spokespersons and politicians have been dripping in confidence about the outcome, claiming they would hit the 250-seat mark. But, if that is the case, why does Modi need to slog so hard in his own backyard, follow in the footsteps of 'UP ke ladke' — Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav — who also attracted huge crowds during their road show in Varanasi.

Varanasi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing an election rally at Rohaniya in Varanasi on Monday. PTI Photo(PTI3_6_2017_000175B)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing an election rally in Varanasi. PTI

Three explanations of Modi's focus on Varanasi are possible. One, he wanted to end the campaign on a high with a home run. Two, the state is headed for a hung Assembly and the BJP is trying to make every seat count. And three, the BJP is stuck in tight contests in the prime minister's own backyard.

The big picture

A fractured mandate can't be ruled out. Since there is no discernible wave in the election — except in eastern UP where the BJP has the edge — the election has become more and more about individual seats. Caste arithmetic, candidate selection, local issues and factors would likely decide the outcome on almost every seat in the state.

The uncertainty of the contest is reflected in the betting market, which has swung wildly during the past one month. Just a month ago, it was betting on the SP-Congress alliance winning 220 seats and the BJP dropping below 100. Now, it is predicting a hung Assembly with the BJP as the largest party.

The BJP would have perhaps done a little better if Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal had not played spoilsport in the first phase. Singh's party has taken away a sizable number of Jat voters from the BJP. This may not translate into too many seats for the RLD but will definitely hurt the BJP in a sizable number of seats. Modi's last-gasp effort in Varanasi may be aimed at picking up almost every seat on offer in the last phase of the election to take the BJP closer to majority.

Though the perception in Delhi is that the BJP will sweep eastern UP, the SP-Congress alliance is also optimistic about its chances on the 40 seats in the final phase. Shashank Shukla, the campaign coordinator for the Congress told Firstpost the alliance would win more seats than the BJP in the final phase. "The BJP will trail us in its self-proclaimed backyard. Even if the difference is not much, the BJP will be behind us," he said.

With both the sides being equally confident of their chances, it thus becomes imperative for the BJP to aim for a very high strike rate in the final phase. And this is what Modi may be attempting.

The Varanasi conundrum

When the Congress launched its campaign in UP last year, Sonia Gandhi surprised everyone by attracting huge crowds at a road show in Varanasi. That momentum seems to have stayed with the Congress-SP alliance. The crowds at Akhilesh and Rahul road show was humongous, indicating the voter in Varanasi is not averse to change.

Out of the eight seats in Varanasi, the alliance is putting up a tough fight in five. Four of its candidates — Ajay Rai (Pindra), Rajesh Mishra (Varanasi South), Anil Srivasatav (Varanasi Cantt) and Surendra Patel (Rohaniya) are considered front-runners. In Varanasi-North, Samad Ansari is giving the BJP a hard time.

The BJP's problems were compounded because of the rebellion by its stalwart Shyamdeo 'Dada' Roy Choudhary, the seven-term legislator who was denied ticket from Varanasi South this year. Incensed by his humiliation, his supporters reportedly threw their weight behind the alliance, helping it make inroads into the BJP bastion. Though Modi reached out to Choudhary during his trip to Varanasi, the popular perception that "If Modi can ditch Dada, he can ditch us too" may harm the BJP.

Only 11 March will tell us who wins the election. But, at the moment, Modi seems to be working hard to ensure he retains his backyard and also goes on to win UP.

Updated Date: Mar 07, 2017 13:15 PM

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