It is surprising that even as the BJP seems to be doing well in the battle for UP 2017, it has run into rough weather in Narendra Modi’s Varanasi constituency. A recent trip to the city revealed that a Delhi-like situation is building up there because of the party’s decision to deny a ticket to seven-time MLA Shyamdeo Roy Chaudhury, popularly known as Dada.

The similarities are astonishing. BJP workers in Varanasi are comparing Dada to Delhi’s Harsh Vardhan who was dumped by the party on election eve and denied a ticket to contest. Instead, his traditional seat of Krishna Nagar was given to Kiran Bedi who then became the party’s chief ministerial candidate. Similarly, Dada’s seat of Varanasi south has been given to a political greenhorn like Bedi named Neelkanth Tiwari.

The sidelining of Harsh Vardhan created huge resentment among Delhi BJP workers who silently sabotaged to defeat the party in Krishna Nagar and in the rest of Delhi. AAP swept 67 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats.

In Varanasi too, BJP workers are hopping mad about Dada’s marginalisation. Although Dada himself, like Harsh Vardhan, is campaigning for the party like a loyal foot soldier, his supporters have vowed to avenge his humiliation. This has given the Congress nominee, Rajesh Mishra, an edge.

The anger with the BJP is not limited to Varanasi south. The sympathy for Dada has spread through the rest of the city where BJP old timers and those who worked to make Modi win in the 2014 Lok Sabha election are nursing a grudge. They feel the BJP used them and has discarded them now in favour of a new coterie nurtured by Amit Shah. Will Varanasi prove to be a mini Delhi?

Slipping popularity

The BJP’s top leadership is clearly worried about the party’s slipping popularity in Varanasi. Anything less than a sweep in the PM’s constituency would be humiliating.

Several damage control measures have been initialized. Amit Shah is camping in the city and will stay till polling day on March 8. Every day, a union minister is sent to Varanasi to pep up BJP’s sullen cadre. Even Modi’s elder brother Somabhai Damodardas Modi landed up for door-to-door campaigning on behalf of the PM. He was there for five days last week and is said to be planning another visit. The BJP hopes that the presence of a family member will add a personal touch to the campaign and remind voters that Varanasi is close to Modi’s heart.

Somabhai was out from 8 in the morning till late evening every day. Interestingly, on his last evening in Varanasi, he held court with the local and visiting media but was carefully circumspect.

But the BJP is pinning its hopes on a Modi blitzkrieg through Varanasi. He is expected to spend at least two days in his constituency, addressing rallies and meeting people. The party had planned a roadshow which has been cancelled because of security considerations.

It is indeed odd that the Prime Minister should have to put in so much effort in his own constituency for an assembly election.

The other bahu

Political circles in UP are puzzled by the decision of Mulayam Sngh’s second daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav to contest from the Lucknow Cantt seat. Samajwadi Party has never won that seat. It has either been won by the BJP or the Congress every time.

It seems Aparna Yadav had set her heart on contesting from Lucknow Cantt despite being warned that it is a difficult constituency for SP. She has been active in the area for the past two years, meeting people and addressing their problems. SP circles joked that like Akhilesh, she too campaigned on the slogan “kaam bolta hai’’. In other words, she felt that her work over two years would help her to win.

SP circles were unhappy about the manner in which she ran her campaign. She started off by driving around in her husband’s expensive Lamborghini. At Rs 5 crore, it has been the subject of much controversy. Halfway through the campaign, Aparna realised perhaps that the showy car was not going down well with voters. So she switched to a Land Cruiser. Although this too is a luxury 4-wheel drive which costs in the range of Rs 2 crore, it is certainly not as flashy as a Lamborghini. SP circles are not confident that Aparna can pull off a victory, given the history of the constituency. In fact, the buzz in Lucknow is that Rita Bahuguna Joshi may win the seat again, this time on a BJP ticket. Her last minute switch from Congress to the BJP may prove fortuitous.

Alternative home

It is ironic that Akhilesh Yadav has already moved into a bungalow that he earmarked for himself as ex-chief minister. In UP, ex-CMs are allotted government bungalows for their life time.

Akhilesh has chosen one on Vikramaditya Marg. He renovated it at a whopping cost of Rs 53 crores. He moved in when the family feud was at its height in December. No-one can understand why Akhilesh allotted the bungalow so many months before the election and moved into it as well. It is being seen almost as an admission that he is unsure of returning to power.

Interestingly, Akhilesh also had a new office constructed for the chief minister on Vidhan Sabha Marg near the UP assembly building. The cost of the new office is an astonishing Rs 603 crores.

The amazing thing is that Akhilesh has hardly used the office. He prefers to work out of his official chief minister’s residence on Kalidas Marg.