The delay in announcement of the Congress candidate against BJP prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi in Varanasi has set off murmurs within the party.
A section of Congress leaders believe that the delay is giving the BJP a lead in the temple town linked closely to religious beliefs in the country.
“The candidate for Varanasi should have been announced by now. The delay is helping the BJP,” said a senior leader on condition of anonymity.
Senior Congress leaders such as Anand Sharma, Digivijay Singh have expressed their desire to contest against Modi, if the party leadership so gives them a green signal.
However, a strong view in the Congress is that a local candidate, who is well versed with the “lanes and bylanes of the city”, would be able to challenge Modi better rather “parachuting” leaders from outside. This narrows down the list of probable candidates to two people – Rajesh Mishra and Ajay Rai. While Mishra won the Varanasi seat in 2004 on a Congress ticket, Rai had contested the seat as a Samajwadi Party candidate. Both Mishra and Rai have been active in the constituency.
Late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son Anil Shastri had won the Varanasi seat in 1989 but on a Janata Dal ticket. The younger Shastri is with the Congress party now.
Between 1991 and 2004, BJP candidates Shirishchandra Dixit and Shankar Prasad Jaiswal represented the seat for two consecutive terms each. Congress leader Mishra had polled 1.25 lakh votes in 1999 when he had lost the election to Jaiswal. In 2009, Varanasi witnessed a straight contest between BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari and BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, which the latter had won by 17,000 votes. Ansari, who has been jailed in connection with the 2005 murder of a BJP MLA, has since parted ways with the BSP and floated his own outfit Quami Ekta Dal.
In the 16-lakh strong Varanasi constituency, Brahmins and Muslims account for three lakh votes each, followed by Kurmi voters who number around two lakh. The constituency has 1.8 lakh Vaishya votes and 80,000 voters each from the Yadav and Dalit communities.
Modi is also contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Vadodara in Gujarat where city Congress chief Narendra Rawat is in the fray. Rawat was directly elected by Congress officer bearers as the party candidate as part of the US-style ‘primaries’ experiment conducted on the directions of Rahul Gandhi.