Look Who’s Contesting Against PM Modi in Varanasi
It’s not the Congress
In 2014 Narendra Modi won the Vadodara Lok Sabha seat with 73% of votes cast, while Mistri Devram of the Congress was a distant second with 24%. Not content with assured victory in Gujarat, and looking to go national, Modi also ran from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, and earned 56% of the vote. Here not the Congress but Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party came in second, securing 20% of the vote.
This time round, no matter the state of his party or the country, PM Modi looks unbeatable. But a number of contenders have lined up to contest against him in his chosen ground of Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi.
Tej Bahadur Yadav
The Border Security Force jawan posted along the Line of Control was dismissed from the paramilitary force after he complained on video of the poor rations the BSF provides its soldiers. Yadav alleged that higher-ups in the BSF were “selling off” rations meant for soldiers illegally, leaving soldiers to suffer.
Yadav told the press he will contest as an independent, despite many parties’ having approached him. “At least the government could have bothered to address the corruption issue I had raised. Its actions to suppress my voice only shows this government is party to large scale corruption in the forces,” he told the Hindustan Times.
He believes former servicemen and farmers will be his main allies in the campaign.
A BSF internal inquiry last July found Yadav guilty of “making false allegations” and “carrying two mobile phones” while on duty.
In January Yadav’s 20-year-old son was found dead in the family’s home in Haryana with bullet injuries to the head and his father’s licensed gun in his hands.
The case was reminiscent of army gunner Roy Matthew’s, who was found dead in his barracks at the Deolali Cantonment, Nashik, after he posted a video complaining about the menial labour forced upon soldiers under the army’s “sahayak” system.
111 Farmers from Tamil Nadu
A group of 111 farmers will file their nominations from Varanasi this year. They are currently crowdsourcing funds for their campaign. Their leader P.Ayakunnu, who is also president of the National South Indian Rivers Inter-Linking Farmers’ Association, told Newsclick that “Narendra Modi cheated the farmers of the country, and we do not want to let him fool us again… We are reaching Varanasi on April 24, and have booked train tickets for 300 farmers. We will walk on the road undressed to show our resistance.”
This is the same group of farmers that has protested in Delhi a number of times, in ways designed to attract the attention of the so-called mainstream media which is apathetic to their issues by design. In 2017 they protested at Jantar Mantar carrying the skulls of farmers who had killed themselves due to indebtedness.
They also protested carrying dead rats in their mouths to draw attention to starvation, malnourishment, and farmers’ getting inadequate prices for their produce. According to a recent Global Hunger Index report, child wasting (weight for height) has been increasing in India since the early 2000s.
Ayakunnu added, “We do not have any personal enmity with Modi, but we are fed up with his anti-farmer policies. We will not file nomination first, but we will ask people to collect money for our election deposit, which is Rs.25,000 each.”
“We know that we will lose the election against Modi, as he is very powerful. But at the same time, we will express our solidarity, we will express our poverty, we will tell people how the central government has not helped farmers.”
Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’
Azad is the young leader of the Bhim Army, which started out as an organisation providing primary schooling to the primarily Dalit kids violently excluded from formal schools, but has grown into a formidable political force particularly in western U.P.
Ravan has been jailed a number of times by the state government, first under Akhilesh Yadav then under Ajay Singh Bisht alias Yogi Adityanath. The charges usually relate to national security, and his popularity seems to have risen with each arrest.
After wide speculation that he wouldn’t contest the 2019 polls, followed by speculation that he would ally his organisation with Mayawati’s BSP, Azad finally announced his candidature from Varanasi last month, on a Bhim Army ticket.
After his latest arrest a fortnight ago, for alleged violations of the Election Commission’s model code of conduct, Azad was visited by several senior Congress leaders including Jyotiradiya Scindia and P.G.Vadra.
Azad called PM Modi’s an “anti-Dalit government” at a rally in Delhi, adding according to reports that “I am going to Banaras and I will need your help to defeat him. I am going there because he is anti-Dalit and he must know that he will be punished for it. He must know, in democracy, the public is everything.”
Azad also asked voters to remember the “sacrifice” of Rohith Vemula when casting their ballot.
The Bhim Army is pitting candidates against erstwhile “human resource development” minister Smriti Irani, and wherever else the SP-BSP grand alliance is “not strong enough”.
The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have yet to declare a candidate for the seat.
The Congress has announced a number of candidates from U.P. but none for Varanasi. State president for U.P. (East) Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has smilingly hinted to the press that she may contest from here.
AAP has announced 6 out of 7 candidates from Delhi among whom Kejriwal doesn’t figure. A party spokesperson told journalists last month that the party would likely extend support to SP-BSP candidates, or even to the Congress, wherever its own weren’t in the fray.