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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 election 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 is the Varanasi MP now, 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.

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 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.

But it was not easy to bring Joshi around, sources said, adding that RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat and others spoke to him from Bangalore.

The RSS and the BJP felt Joshi should dispel speculation that he was on a warpath against Rajnath over Varanasi.

Late last night, journalists were informed that Joshi would address a news conference today after meeting farmer leaders. He arrived late and looked tetchy when he saw journalists. “I am here to address farming representatives and not you,” he said, but ultimately did as the party had promised.


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