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Sheela Says: Narendra Modi wants Varanasi, and he will get it!

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: March 10, 2014 22:18 IST
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Narendra Modi, who wants to become India's next prime minister, will fight the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi, considered to be the oldest living city in the world by millions of Indians.

This Lok Sabha constituency's importance is that the political message of Hindutva need not be spelt out to the electorate if and when Modi arrives in New Delhi from Gandhinagar via Varanasi.

If Modi wins the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi, it will be a great act of identity politics rarely seen in Indian politics.

Why does Modi want to contest from Varanasi?

All things ancient, all things that symbolise Indian civilisation, can be seen in this city, in bits and pieces, sometimes even in the flowing waters of the Ganga.

It is imperative for Modi to relate to India's history in some way, as he cannot appropriate the glorious history of Independence that the Congress boasts about.

But with Varanasi, he can go beyond India's movement for Independence from the British.

Varanasi is particularly attractive for Modi as he has a penchant for developing ancient holy sites.

Moulding tourist attractions from traditional pilgrimage spots is an alluring proposition for him.

The Ambaji temple near the Rajasthan-Gujarat border and the Somnath temple in Saurashtra bear testimony to this.

Incredible changes have been made to these ancient sites -- the kind of change that middle class Indians would appreciate -- by the Modi-led Gujarat government.

Last year, Modi wanted to renovate the iconic pilgrimage sites of Badrinath and Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, but the state's Congress government got wind of his plans and nixed it.

The debate was initiated to give the task of renovating Badrinath and Kedarnath to private companies, but the Congress-led government in Uttarakhand didn't budge. They kept the reconstruction, which has tremendous religious value, also under it control after terrible floods that ravaged the state last year.

For political, religious, cultural and personal reasons, Modi will contest from Varanasi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party claims this will help BJP candidates in nearly 28 Lok Sabha constituencies in the Purvanchal region, or eastern Uttar Pradesh, and a dozen seats in adjoining western Bihar.

The spanner thrown in Modi's plans by veteran BJP leader Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, Varanasi's sitting member of Parliament, is sensational because it reveals the BJP's fault-lines.

It also shows that Modi gets what he wants, always.

The Modi camp will be ruthless, yet patient, till the BJP's Central Election Committee meets on Thursday, March 13, where it will decide to announce Modi's candidature.

Dr Joshi, at the most, is a political irritant who didn't help Varanasi, a great symbol of ancient India, improve itself in any manner.

Modi's supporters argue, "The seat held by any member of Parliament is not the fiefdom of the elected MP. It is the party that has the right to distribute seats. When Dr Joshi's constituency was shifted to Varanasi from Allahabad, did the party ask anybody in Varanasi first?"

Dr Joshi, it is claimed, has an aversion towards helping members of his constituency solve civic issues.

Varanasi, a major tourist attraction, faces enormous civic problems, but Dr Joshi has not been of much help in solving local issues.

After the very public embarrassment the party faced due to Dr Joshi's resistance against Modi's candidature, the BJP will have to declare the Gujarat chief minister as its candidate from Varanasi.

Dr Joshi has no option but to contest the Lok Sabha election from another constituency.

After all, how can a leader who wants to become the prime minister of India, be perceived as someone so weak that he can't even get the Lok Sabha seat of his choice?

Image: A supporter of Narendra Modi at a BJP rally. Photograph: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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