What Did Narendra Modi’s Nomination Process In Varanasi Convey?
On April 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed his nomination from Varanasi for the ongoing parliamentary elections. The two days he spent in Varanasi were turned into a big event, with a big roadshow and a show of strength with a gamut of leaders by his side.
On April 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed his nomination from Varanasi for the ongoing parliamentary elections. The two days he spent in Varanasi were turned into a big event, with a big roadshow and a demonstration of strength with a gamut of leaders by his side. It exuded confidence that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would come back to power. While that may happen, there is something to be learnt from these events.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it seems, pulled out all the stops to make Modi’s nomination a grand affair. A day before, on April 25th, large numbers of Modi followers poured into the city to greet Modi when he arrived in Varanasi to file his nomination. A sea of saffron welcomed him, as he made his way in the city, which turned into a roadshow. A huge crowd of people lined up along his 7 km journey. He held a big meeting with BJP workers as well.
Modi was also accompanied by leaders from NDA parties to file his nomination. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, AIADMK leaders O Panneerselvam and M Thambidurai were there. So were BJP leaders like Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, along with Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari. They were present at the office of the district magistrate at the time Modi filed his nomination. It turned into a big photo-op as the entire process was big on political messaging.
Further, the process was made symbolic by his proposers. As per regulation, four people proposed Modi's name. They included, former principal of the Banaras Hindu University's women college Annapurna Shukla, 'Dom Raja' and 'chief cremator' Jagdish Chowdhary, from the family that lights every funeral pyre in the town, long time BJP worker Subhash Chander Gupta, and agricultural scientist Ram Shanker Patel. This tried to convey that the Prime Minister had deep roots in the ancient town, a ‘son of the soil’.
On April 25th, Modi told BJP workers the country was witnessing a pro-incumbency wave for the first time as he expressed confidence that the party was set to return to power. He said he had worked honestly for good governance and people have made up their minds that they want ‘Modi sarkar’ again. He added that the mega roadshow was a sign that the BJP had won Varanasi. “People across the nation are saying... Fir Ek Baar...?" Modi prompted. "Modi sarkar," the workers chanted.
A projection of strength and confidence, he was almost trying to set the narrative. There is no evidence of a “pro-incumbency” wave for BJP and Modi in the country. Three phases of voting have happened so far, but there is not much to go on to predict anything. The reports that have come in do not flatter the BJP and Modi, particularly from Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state. There are no clean sweeps, just a series of close fights. So, it could also be seen as sign of nervousness.
However, there was cause for confidence for Modi. After much speculation, the Congress announced the party would not field Priyanka Gandhi from Varanasi. The party decided to nominate Ajay Rai from the seat instead. The idea of contest between Gandhi and Modi was such a mouth-watering one, promising fireworks. Now, that will not come to pass.
Further the speech betrayed the shift in narrative, away from ‘vikas’ (development). He told the BJP workers that the economy must thrive but security must be a pre-condition. “Sri Lanka recently witnessed serial blasts and peace loving people in prayers were killed. They had come in luxury cars and had big bungalows but all that was left behind when they fell prey to terrorists,” he said. Unlike 2014, the BJP campaign in 2019 has been less about development, and more about security, the armed forces and the Opposition.
The nomination process was also loaded with symbolism. Apart from the proposers, the fact that important leaders of the NDA were also there didn’t go unnoticed. In 2014, Modi was just a BJP leader fighting the election. But, in 2019, he is not just any leader, but the Prime Minister. The first among equals. There is a lot at stake for him in this election.
Modi had won from Varanasi by a huge margin in 2014, winning 5.8 lakh votes. The Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal came second with around two lakh votes. Rai got with a mere 75,000 votes. This time, he is up against Rai again, along with joint SP-BSP-RLD candidate Shalini Yadav. Will he prevail this time as well? Varanasi will vote on May 19th in the last round of the seven-phased poll. The counting of votes will take place on May 23rd.