Varanasi, May 7: The BJP has lashed out at the Election Commission and threatened to hit the streets of Varanasi tomorrow morning, alleging that Narendra Modi was denied permission to hold three events in the city he is contesting the Lok Sabha election from.
The party tonight wrote a terse letter to the poll panel saying it was withdrawing its applications for permission for a rally at Benia Bagh, a Ganga aarti on the river bank and a meeting with leading citizens at a hotel, signalling it was raring for a fight.
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who demanded recall of the Varanasi returning officer, will sit on dharna outside the Banaras Hindu University campus with Modi’s aide Amit Shah, party MP Ananth Kumar and other leaders and workers in what is being seen as an attempt to milk the controversy ahead of polling in 18 seats in Uttar Pradesh and six in neighbouring Bihar on May 12.
The protesters are expected to march from the BJP’s election office, located in the heart of Varanasi, to BHU. Modi, who is scheduled to address a rally at Rohainya in rural Varanasi tomorrow, will also drive down from the helipad on the BHU campus to the party’s office, hoping to repeat the huge roadshow he staged before filing his nomination on April 24.
The Election Commission said tonight it was “surprised and disappointed” by the BJP’s decision to hold protests although it had been trying to resolve the matter “in accordance with law and the ground situation”, reports PTI.
Returning officer Pranjal Yadav had asserted at a news conference at night that permission had been granted for the Ganga aarti and the meeting with a group of citizens. “But we cannot allow Modi’s rally at Benia Bagh for security reasons,” Yadav said.
Benia Bagh, a premier meeting venue, is located in a minority-dominated neighbourhood. Sources in the Varanasi administration said there were fears Modi’s rally could foment communal tension. The sources also said the ground fits up to 50,000 people but over a lakh were expected.
After the returning officer was quoted by PTI early in the evening as saying permission had been granted for the two events and for holding the rally at an alternative venue on an application by a BJP leader, Jaitley accused Yadav of “lying through his teeth”. He denied the party had received permission for any event or that it had requested an alternative site for the rally.
But the Election Commission, in a letter to Jaitley, said the district administration had granted permission for the “Ganga poojan” and the “meeting of eminent citizens”, adds PTI. It said it had consulted the Uttar Pradesh chief secretary and the state police chief, who endorsed the district administration’s reservations on security as well as the suitability of Benia Bagh as the rally venue, including its capacity.
“You will appreciate that the commission cannot overlook the security concerns expressed by competent authorities,” the letter said. It also noted that a BJP representative, Vidyasagar Rai, had requested an alternative site on May 6 but that Jaitley had later urged the returning officer not to process the permission.
“Hence the commission is surprised and disappointed that your party has chosen to hold protests,” it said.
Jaitley had earlier sought to blame the panel for the decision to hold the dharna, saying “in case the constitutional remedy of approaching the EC is not available to us, we will have no option but to protest”.
He wrote three letters to the poll panel, accusing the returning officer of being “partisan” and rejecting the BJP’s requests for permission for all three events. He alleged that polling in Varanasi “cannot be free and fair with Mr Pranjal Yadav as the returning officer”. Jaitley said: “The returning officer wants to deny us the opportunity to campaign and by refusal to exercise the jurisdiction vested in you, you have condoned that default.”
Rahul Gandhi will hold a roadshow in Varanasi on May 10, the last day of campaigning.