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Can Congress dent Modi's image in Varanasi?

March 01, 2017 13:46 IST

To counter PM Narendra Modi’s aggressive speeches, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav will hold a joint roadshow on March 4 in PM’s constituency, reports Amit Agnihotri.

 

As the political battle for Uttar Pradesh enters its last leg, the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance is moving heavy artillery to the eastern parts of the state to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The final show of strength will be in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi, where Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav will hold a joint roadshow on March 4.

Congress in-charge of UP affairs Ghulam Nabi Azad, state unit chief Raj Babbar and a battery of senior leaders will be moving to Varanasi shortly. Party veteran Ashok Gehlot is overseeing preparations for the roadshow, which has been postponed twice.

The Congress managers shifted the February 27 joint roadshow in Varanasi to Gorakhpur as Modi’s constituency goes to the polls in the last phase on March 8; Gorakhpur will see polling in the sixth phase on March 4.

The ruling SP, too, is mobilising its resources, especially the youth wing, to ensure a huge turnout during the roadshow. Both Rahul and Akhilesh have conducted separate rallies in the area to counter Modi’s aggressive speeches.

The tweaking in the alliance strategy has been done in the wake of reports that the BJP might be doing better than expected in the area. According to Congress insiders, the BJP is concerned about the impact of the Rahul-Akhilesh roadshow in Varanasi and so shifted PM Modi’s event from March 3 to March 5.

The saffron party has also got permission from the local administration for another roadshow to be conducted in the holy city by BJP chief Amit Shah on March 6.

Given the strong cultural affinity eastern UP areas share with neighbouring Bihar, the Congress roped in Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, who on Tuesday sought votes for the alliance candidates in the Marihan, Jaunpur and Pindra seats.

While Rajya Sabha member Rajiv Shukla is monitoring the eastern UP area, Congress veteran Anil Shastri will campaign in Gorakhpur, the stronghold of BJP lawmaker Adityanath.

Congress strategists say they are aware of the carpet-bombing style campaign being conducted by Modi and Shah in eastern UP, but claimed that the alliance has an edge in terms of voter preference. The alliance is banking on SP’s domination in the area and hopes the combined vote share of the two parties will help keep the BJP and the BSP at bay.

Besides, tickets for upper-caste candidates are expected to attract the voters towards the alliance.

Acknowledging a poor show by the BJP in Varanasi will dent Modi’s image, sources say the alliance candidates are winning in the three assembly seats in Varanasi -- cantonment, south and north -- besides Pindra, where sitting member of legislative assembly Ajay Rai is in the fray. The alliance is banking on the dissent within the BJP over ticket distribution in Varanasi.

Modi had decided to contest from Varanasi in the 2014 national elections with an eye on the eastern UP seats. However, alliance managers say the situation on the ground has changed since then.

Photograph: Sandeep Pal/Rediff.com

Complete Coverage Assembly Elections:
Uttar Pradesh ' Punjab ' Goa ' Uttarakhand ' Manipur
Amit Agnihotri
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