How the BJP crafted its campaign in prized Varanasi

How the BJP crafted its campaign in prized Varanasi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves towards his supporters during a roadshow in Varanasi, April 25, 2019. REUTERS

Voters may complain that the competitive zing was missing in the prime minister's constituency but the BJP had a clear-cut strategy to keep the campaign ship sailing -- entrusting senior leaders and celebrities to canvass for votes while a handful of carefully chosen lieutenants managed the back end.

A string of senior leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Yogi Adityanath visited the town to address meetings and Bhojpuri showbiz stars Manoj Tiwari and Nirahua added a dash of glamour in the campaigning for the BJP's most prestigious seat.

The campaigning ended on Friday evening, ahead of the last round of the seven-phase elections on Sunday.

Behind the scenes, three BJP leaders from Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, have been silently running the show, said, party insiders.

Parindu Bhagat, also known as Kakubhai, looks at the overall election management of Varanasi and the expenditure, local BJP leaders said.

Bhagat, a lawyer by profession, received Modi’s winning certificate from the district magistrate in Varanasi in the last general elections.

Modi’s trusted ally for years, Bhagat handles all legal matters related to elections in Varanasi and operates from an office in Mahmoorganj in Varanasi.

The second man behind the scenes is Sunil Oza, another leader from Modi’s home state and former MLA from Bhavnagar. He is overall in charge of the Varanasi and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seats.

According to party workers, Oza managed Modi’s election in 2014 as well and was the person assigned for door-to-door campaigning and reaching out to voters across the constituency.

The third is BJP’s MP from Navsari, C R Patil who has been assigned to stay in constant touch with BJP’s ‘panna pramukhs’, local councillors and village headmen.

He also looks after developmental work in two of the villages adopted by Modi.

While the trio from Gujarat handled the nitty-gritty, the others managed the optics of the voter outreach.

Two Union ministers Piyush Goyal and J P Nadda along with Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya have been camping here for more than a week.

Goyal held a small meeting of professionals such as doctors and lawyers, Nadda addressed small public meetings in various localities in Varanasi and Maurya travelled to nearby villages. They were joined by Swaraj and Adityanath who also addressed meetings and rallies.

Bhojpuri film star Tiwari helped add colour to the campaign, seeking votes for Modi by singing songs, while Dinesh Lal Yadav alias Nirahua drove a cycle rickshaw across town.

Locals said the feverish excitement of 2014, Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal contested against Modi, was missing this time from the temple town.

Summing up the mood among people in the town in one line, Ramlal Mishra, a local shopkeeper in Varanasi's Lanka area suggested Modi is the clear favourite to win and said,”Maza nayi hai iss baar, pura one sided ho gaya hai. (Didn't have too much fun this time. It was totally one sided)."urite.

Standing in his shop, Krishnpal Patel, added, “Pichli baar gazab ka mahol tha, ek dum mela jaisa, is baar vo baat nahi hai (Last time the atmosphere was amazing, like a carnival. This time it was not like that)."

According to both Mishra and Patel, 2014 was Modi's first election so there was a certain craze.

In 2014, Modi defeated his nearest rival Kejriwal by more than 3.5 lakh votes.

Varanasi is considered a comfortable seat for BJP, which has won in every election since 1991, except for 2004 when the seat went to the Congress.