In a last-ditch and full-throated effort in the scramble for Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his entourage of cabinet ministers is leaving no stone unturned. This is despite the fact that the buzz, real or imagined, of the past few days appears to put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead in the electoral race.
Monday – 6 March – marked the end of the seventh and final phase of elections in the state, and Modi showed up, as per script, to conclude the three-day mega roadshow in his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi.
"Good Signals” to Voters?
Illustrative of BJP's last push for a good show, Modi on Monday offered prayers and accepted rudraksha malas – worn by devotees of Lord Shiva – at the Garhwa Ghat Ashram, which has considerable following among the backward castes. He then visited the Ashram’s gaushala to feed tender grass to the cattle.
BJP sources believe that Modi's visit and his public felicitation by the Ashram will send out "good signals" to voters, especially the OBCs and the Dalits.
The head guru at the Garhwa Ghat Ashram has traditionally come from the Yadav caste – and has followers spread across the poll-bound region. Modi's visit is seen as an attempt to reach out to the Yadav community, which has traditionally aligned with the Samajwadi Party.
Even on Saturday, Modi’s programme was marked by an ostentatious worship of Lord Vishwanath at the holy Hindu shrine at Kashi, where he offered several litres of milk and performed the aarti at the sanctum sanctorum.
The fact that key members of Modi’s cabinet have camped out in Varanasi over the past few weeks, is a reflection of the party’s anxieties. The result in Modi’s parliamentary constituency will be a direct assessment of the work done on the ground since Varanasi elected Modi as Prime Minister.
The Namami Gange project for the rejuvenation of the Ganges has come under the National Green Tribunal’s scanner, which accused government agencies of “wasting public money.”
In addition, the replacement of popular leader Shyamdeo Rai Chowdhury, who won the Varanasi South seat several times, with a lesser-known Neelkanth Tiwari, has left several in Varanasi feeling unhappy and impatient with the BJP rule.
In this context, the party must do all it can to ensure the holy Hindu city does not switch its loyalty to the SP-Congress coalition.
Varanasi goes to polls on 8 March, and it will be less than a week before Modi finds out if his endeavours in UP deliver the desired results.
(With inputs from PTI)