Can Priyanka Gandhi defeat Narendra Modi in Varanasi?
Though this is a tough option, here's how the arithmetic could stack up.
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After being made Congress General Secretary in charge of eastern UP, speculation is rife that Priyanka Gandhi may contest from the party bastion of Rae Bareli. She might replace her mother Sonia Gandhi who has reportedly not been keeping too well. Sonia Gandhi has won this seat consecutively for the last five terms. So, this would be the safest option for Priyanka, if she were to contest.
Meanwhile, posters have come up in Varanasi, urging Priyanka Gandhi to contest from there, which incidentally is also Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha constituency.
The posters read - "Kashi Ki Janta Kare Pukar, Priyanka Gandhi Ho Sansad Hamar (Kashi's voters want Priyanka Gandhi as their MP)".
The local unit of the Congress too demanded that Priyanka take on Modi. Though this is a tough option, it may galvanise voters of UP and neighbouring states to favour the Congress because this has the potential to project the Gandhis' fighting instinct and show that they are not scared of taking on Modi in a direct contest.
If Priyanka were to match Modi in Varanasi, she would have to break the BJP's hold on the Brahmin and Bhumihar vote. (Photo: Reuters)
If Priyanka Gandhi opts to contest from Varanasi, how difficult would the fight be for her?
To get a sense of the outcome, one would have to delve into the caste dynamics of this constituency because in the caste-ridden electoral politics of eastern Uttar Pradesh, what finally matters is caste arithmetic.
So, let’s take a close look at the caste dynamics of Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency.
If Priyanka Gandhi were to contest from Varanasi, the chances are that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) would come out in support.
While both parties excluded the Congress from their alliance, they did announce that they wouldn't contest in Sonia's Rae Bareli and Rahul's Amethi constituency. In addition, they would in all probability support a powerful candidate against Modi.
In the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency, Muslims form the largest block, with around 3 lakh voters. It can be expected that a substantial number of them would vote for the BSP-SP supported Priyanka.
Similarly, 1.5 lakh Yadavs, who traditionally support SP, and 80,00 Dalits, who vote BSP, may also vote for the Congress.
All taken together, this would mean about 5.30 lakh votes in favour of Priyanka.
This would give her a solid vote base to build on. To consolidate, she will have to target wooing the Brahmins, who account for some 2.5 lakh votes, and Bhumihars, who number around 1.5 lakh.
Both these castes had traditionally supported the Congress but shifted to the BJP after Mandir/Mandal politics.
But it is believed that they still have a soft corner for the Congress while disliking the SP and the BSP. The challenge for the Congress would be to bring them back into its fold, despite support from the SP and BSP.
The BJP can count on a base vote of 2 lakh Vaish, 1 lakh Rajput, 80,000 Chaurasia, 65,000 Kayastha, 2.5 lakh Brahmin and 1.5 lakh Bhumihar votes. This would mean that Modi could have around 8.5 lakh votes to build on.
While this huge base vote might seem insurmountable for Priyanka, the BJP would also have to do everything possible to keep the 4 lakh Brahmin and Bhumihar votes in their kitty because they would be crucial to the outcome.
If Priyanka were to match Modi in Varanasi, she would have to break the BJP's hold on this Brahmin and Bhumihar upper caste vote share.
The outcome of Varanasi would depend on who would get the maximum part of these votes.
If a substantial section of the upper caste votes desert the BJP, then retaining Varanasi might be more difficult for Modi than he would want to accept.