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Fauji vs Modi in Varanasi

Samajwadi Party fields a former BSF jawan who was sacked in 2017 after uploading a video clip about food in the force’s camps

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 30.04.19, 7:01 AM
  • Updated 30.04.19, 7:01 AM
  • 2 mins read
Tej Bahadur in Varanasi on Monday. (PTI)

A sacked BSF jawan has been fielded by the Samajwadi Party against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi in a dramatic midstream switch whose symbolism stands out in an election marked by a martial narrative.

A uniformed personnel, who was fired for protesting the poor quality of food, matching his wits against a strongman leader, who has tested norms by openly seeking votes in the name of the armed forces, is certain to catch public imagination.

Intrigue has been added to the dramatic development because of the manner in which the Samajwadi Party replaced its Varanasi nominee at the last moment and in the dead of night announced the name of Tej Bahadur Yadav (better known as Tej Bahadur Fauji).

A tweet under the party’s official handle had at 2.29am on Monday announced that its new Varanasi candidate was Tej Bahadur, a former BSF jawan who was sacked in 2017 after uploading a video clip about food in the force’s camps.

The nocturnal announcement has prompted charges from the camp of the replaced candidate that the Samajwadis are deliberately fielding a weak candidate against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on an alleged request from him to ensure that his dazzling margin of 2014 was not reduced.

But others dismissed such suggestions, insisting that Varanasi would be a cakewalk for Modi regardless of whoever the Opposition fields.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was among those who lauded the Samajwadi move, tweeting: “On the one hand there is a person who risked his life for the country and lost his job to fight for the rights of jawans, while on the other hand there is this person who fired a jawan who raised his voice and asks votes over martyred soldiers.”

Apparently unaware of the switch, Shalini Yadav, who was declared the Samajwadi candidate a fortnight ago, set off for the district magistrate’s office at the head of a road show in the afternoon to file her papers. A Samajwadi politician appears to have called her midway to dissuade her but she nevertheless went to the DM’s office. She later told her supporters she had filed her nomination as the Samajwadi candidate on strength of the official form the party had issued her with.

Tej Bahadur — better known as Tej Bahadur Fauji — had already filed his papers as an Independent on April 24. State election commission officials confirmed that he filed a fresh nomination as Samajwadi candidate on Monday evening and that Shalini’s papers would be rejected.

Fauji claims he is contesting to show up Modi’s lack of concern for the jawans, on whose shoulders he is piggybacking his hyper-nationalist plank and in whose name he has been seeking votes.

Shalini, who had left the Congress for the Samajwadis two months ago, wouldn’t respond to phone calls. One of her associates alleged that Modi feared a reduced victory margin in Varanasi and had called Samajwadi patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, requesting that Shalini be replaced with a weak candidate.

“We have learnt that Akhilesh quickly contacted his mahagathbandhan ally, Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati, and informed her he wanted to change the Varanasi candidate. She said she had no objections,” the associate, who wouldn’t be named, said.

“Akhilesh then called Surendra Patel, former party MLA from Sevapuri, and asked him to contest from Varanasi. But Patel suggested Tej Bahadur because Fauji is not a strong candidate and cannot campaign because of a shortage of funds. Nominating Fauji solves the purpose of Modi, Mulayam and Akhilesh.”

Mulayam is known to maintain close relations with Modi and other senior BJP leaders. In the Lok Sabha on February 13, he had blessed Modi and wished him a second term as Prime Minister.

Over 100 retired or suspended army and paramilitary soldiers have gathered in Varanasi for the past week or so to campaign for Fauji. All the suspended jawans have paid the price for protesting corruption and exploitation by their superiors. They allege that Modi has “stood by the corrupt officers” and ignored their complaints. 

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