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Varanasi stage set for Modi

New Delhi, March 9: The BJP has cleared the decks for Narendra Modi to contest the Lok Sabha poll from Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi.

Barring unforeseen, eleventh-hour issues, it seems certain that Modi, the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, will take his first shot in a parliamentary election from one of the heartland’s most prestigious seats that has a track record of embracing “outsiders” who bring a solid political cachet.

BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, who represents Varanasi in the Lok Sabha at present, told the media: “I have no problems with a decision that is taken to enhance the prestige of the party and the prestige of its PM candidate, Shri Modi, and a decision that brings the maximum number of seats for the BJP.”

Joshi said a final decision on Varanasi and other seats would be taken when the BJP’s highest decision-making body, its parliamentary board, meets on March 13. “Modi will, of course, be present in this meeting,” he said.

Normally, the 18-member central election committee puts the seal on candidate selection. But sources said since heavyweights like Joshi, Rajnath Singh, Modi, L.K. Advani and possibly Arun Jaitley await a hearing on the seats they will contest from, the 11-member board is expected to meet separately.

Joshi may be fielded from Kanpur. Once a BJP stronghold, the party yielded the constituency to the Congress in 2004 and 2009. Still, Kanpur holds a spark of hope because in the 2012 Assembly elections, of the 10 seats, the Samajwadi Party won five, the BJP four and the Congress one.

Varanasi has five Assembly seats: of these, the BJP won three, the Apna Dal, a caste party of Kurmis, got one and the Samajwadi one. The BJP’s winners — Jyotsna Srivastava, Ravindra Jaiswal and Shyamdev Roy Chaudhuri “Dada” — have never lost an election for years, irrespective of how the party did in the parliamentary polls. The trio is considered as the BJP’s most “durable asset” in Uttar Pradesh.

Asked if he would accept the parliamentary panel’s decision, regardless of what it might be, Joshi replied: “Every disciplined soldier (of the BJP) accepts its decisions and I am certainly one.”

He, however, admitted to being “disturbed” by the Varanasi-datelined media reports, suggesting a groundswell of favour for Modi and a proportionate degree of sentiment against him. He said he had raised the matter with the BJP president in the central election committee meeting on Saturday.

Queried on the “poster war” in the city between his and Modi’s cheerleaders, Joshi said: “The posters with the caption, ‘Bring Modi and Save India’, date back to when he was there to address a rally. These posters have been put up all over the country. My posters carry my Holi greetings for the people. So this talk of a poster war is a product of the media’s fixation and media manipulation.”

Asked if he would be heartbroken to leave Varanasi for another constituency, he said: “Don’t be over-smart in trying to coax the kind of answers the media seeks from me.”

But it was not easy to bring Joshi around, said sources. RSS seniors, including sarsanghachalak Mohanrao Bhagwat, spoke to him from Bangalore where they have congregated for the annual delegates’ convention.

It was conveyed clearly that no leader’s public shenanigans or display of insubordination would be brooked on the plea that he or she had “served” the BJP as a “loyalist” and, therefore, craved the Sangh’s “indulgence”. “There is a message in this for Sushma (Swaraj) and Advani too,” a source said.

Sushma spoke out against the BJP’s move to merge the BSR Congress in Karnataka, although she was the original patron of the BSR Congress president.

Those in the BJP impressed on Joshi that Kanpur would be a “sure-fire” winnable seat this time because the incumbent MP, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, of the Congress had become “discredited” while the Samajwadi’s overall graph had plummeted since 2012.

The RSS and the BJP felt Joshi should instantly dispel the speculation that he was on a warpath against Rajnath because of Varanasi. He wasn’t keen though, said sources.

Late last night, journalists were informed on email that Joshi would be interacting with peasant leaders this morning to elicit their views and proposals that could be incorporated into the BJP manifesto he was working on. Thereafter, he would address a news conference.

“Read between the lines, the text was that Joshi would have to scotch the rumours of resentment etc. Obviously, we do not wish to drag journalists out on a Sunday afternoon for a presser on farming issues,” a source said.

Joshi arrived behind the appointed hour and looked tetchy when he saw journalists. “I am here to address farming representatives and not you,” he said.

By then, the journalists were assured by members of the BJP’s media cell, who showed up in sufficient strength, that “Doctor Sahab” will indeed speak to them and answer all their questions.

That was the mandate handed out to Joshi by the RSS and the BJP’s top echelon that combine the ruthlessness of a patriarchal order and the cold efficiency of present-day corporate practices when the Sangh Parivar’s interests are at stake.