Candidates supported by BJP recently won 66 of the 75 Zila Panchayat chairman elections held in Uttar Pradesh. Twenty-one of them got elected unopposed, including from Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency.
Varanasi, in fact, symbolises BJP’s confidence in Uttar Pradesh, the gateway to the power corridors of India.
Narendra Modi’s visit to Varanasi ahead of next year’s assembly polls in the state assumes significance. UP is expected to go to polls between February and March next year. Barring 2004, Varanasi has always been with BJP since the party’s rise to political significance in 1989.
Varanasi constituency saw below 50 per cent poll percentage in every election since 1991 but with PM Modi in the election fray, it dramatically increased to 58.35 per cent in 2014 and 59 per cent in 2019 and more importantly, the gap between Narendra Modi and the runner-up widened.
PM Modi got 56.37 per cent votes in 2014, the third-highest vote share for a winner in Varanasi while Arvind Kejriwal, who was the first runner-up, got 20.30 per cent votes. In 2019, PM Modi’s vote share increased to 63.62 per cent, second-highest in Varanasi historically, while the vote share of the first runner-up declined to 18.4 per cent. A total of 66.82 per cent votes in 1977 elections so far is the highest vote share for any winner in the seat.
The number of votes PM Modi got in 2019 and 2014 were, in fact, highest for a winning candidate in the Lok Sabha history and PM Modi’s victory margin in 2019, 45.22 per cent, is second highest in the constituency after 1977. The victory that year came with a margin of 49.4 per cent.
The result showed that the residents of the constituency supported the prime minister’s development work between 2014 and 2019. It was in fact a corroboration of the public approval that reflected quite well in 2017 assembly elections when BJP won all five assembly seats falling under the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency. The party won four seats and its ally Apna Dal won one seat.
Overall, in the entire state, BJP won 312 assembly seats with almost 40% vote share while it came second on 54 seats in the 403-member UP assembly.
Varanasi and BJP
BJP’s stint with Varanasi began in 1984 with party candidate Om Prakash Singh finishing fourth securing 12.7 per cent votes. And it soon became a winning trend in 1991 when BJP’s Shreesh Chandra Dixit won the seat securing 41 per cent votes, 9 per cent more than the runner-up, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Raj Kishore.
General elections of 1996, 1998 and 1999 saw Varanasi electing BJP’s Shankar Prasad Jaiswal. He began with over 45 per cent of vote-share, slid to 33 per cent in the 1999 polls and lost the 2004 election to Rajesh Mishra of Congress, securing only 24 per cent votes. Jaiswal’s declining vote share election after election says he could not perform well in the seat and faced people’s anger in 2004. If Shankar Prasad Jaiswal could win three terms without doing anything significant for the constituency, it only tells how safe a seat Varanasi had become for the BJP.
BJP’s nationalism pitch and the Ram Temple movement worked wonders in Varanasi.
Jaiswal’s loss in 2004 was BJP’s loss more than a Congress win. Voters sent the message to the party that they could not be taken for granted always and were ready for a change if BJP continued with non-performers.
But 2009 Lok Sabha results in the constituency showed Rajesh Mishra failed to live up to voters’ expectations. BJP had fielded veteran Murali Manohar Joshi from Varanasi but his victory was not quite comfortable.
The narrow margin of Joshi’s win (just over 17,000) over BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari showed that the voters were yet to forgive the party fully. Joshi secured victory with a vote share of 30.5 per cent votes.
The 2014 difference
The BJP, then under Narendra Modi, played a masterstroke in 2014. PM Modi shifted his constituency to Varanasi to appeal to the voters nationally that he was acceptable all across India.
His election campaign was a good mix of development, nationalism and Ram Temple pitch that appealed to the voters not just in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and northern parts of the country but across India, with BJP becoming the first party to win clear majority in the Lok Sabha elections post 1984 General Elections and repeated it with more numbers in the 2019 General Elections.
Uttar Pradesh was, in fact, the major reason behind BJP’s spectacular performance in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the party won 71 seats and 62 seats respectively. BJP called 2019 victory even better that 2014 as the party got almost 50% of the votes and found a giant killer in Smriti Irani who defeated Rahul in the Amethi Lok Sabha election.
And Varanasi, with Narendra Modi as its political representative, was the symbolic representative of it.