NEW DELHI: Ever since leaders Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati announced the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance for Uttar Pradesh the political grapevine is agitated with rumours of Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaving Varanasi for a ‘safe seat’ in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. Bihar Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav added to the speculation with, “"BJP is jittery after the BSP-SP alliance and they should be asked whether Narendra Modi will fight elections from Varanasi again."

However, a close look at the statistics along with random conversations with Varanasi voters by The Citizen team reveals that Varanasi is actually a safe seat, with the Prime Minister having little to fear from the alliance.

While it is true that the BJP registered a sweep over UP in the 2014 general elections largely because of the division in the Opposition votes, it is also true that Varanasi is one of the few seats where the combined strength of the entire opposition is less than the 56.37% of the vote share secured by Modi in the elections.

Aam Aadmi Party whose chief Arvind Kejriwal had contested the last Lok Sabha elections against PM Modi, came in second place with just 20.30 per cent vote share. He has made it clear this time at the onset that he will not be contesting the forthcoming polls from Varanasi.

The combined strength of the Congress 7.34%, Bahujan Samaj party 5.88% and Samajwadi party 4.39% was a dismal 17,61% of the vote share. The alliance of the last two political parties might increase with some of the AAP vote drifting to it, but even so PM Modi seems to be well above the electoral waters in this UP constituency.

Locals also admit that he personally has appeal, and while a 2014 kind of wave for him is certainly not expected, the Prime Minister will hold his own in the largely Muslim (aprox 3 lakh) and Brahmin (aprox 2.5 lakh) dominated constituency. Varanasi has bucked the trend often, favouring the BJP with Murli Manohar Joshi the sitting candidate before he vacated the seat for Modi. The BJP has relied heavily on the upper caste votes here that includes the Brahmins, Kayasthas, Vaish and Bhumihars. The Kurmis and Patels (1.5lakh) tend to favour the BJP and NDA ally Apna Dal that won in one of the Assembly segments with the others all being secured by the BJP.

In 2014 the Muslim vote was divided between AAP and the other Opposition parties. However, such is the profile of Varanasi and the continuing pull of PM Modi that he is unlikely to lose from this seat unless there is a solid wave against the BJP of which Varanasi is showing little signs at this point in time.

There is some concern however about the role of the rather ambitious UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath whose relations with PM Modi remain under a questionmaker. He has spent the last year in cementing his own position in Varanasi with frequent visits, and meetings from the larger public rallies to intimate drawing room interactions with ‘intellectuals’. A former Banaras Hindu University professor who was present at one such meeting said that Adityanath spent the hour listening to suggestions, and left the meeting with new admirers. He did not say a word about the Prime Minister, but sought to convince the gathered intellectuals that he would take their suggestions on board.

However, the Prime Minister has his own team looking after the constituency with regular feedback. And while there is growing criticism about the lack of work for the development of Varanasi, most spoken to admit that Modi is head and shoulders above all others at this point in time in the holy city. He celebrated his 68th birthday in Varanasi last year, he visits the constituency fairly regularly, and has an unshakeable fan following. The reservation for the economically backward sections is expected to work to his advantage in Varanasi where school children hold havanas for him, and the women collect at meetings singing his praise.

“Where will he go except to Gujarat, and why should he go, Varanasi is still with him,” a Bhumihar political worker with contacts in both the BJP and Congress said.