• Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019
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Modi chooses Hindu holy city of Varanasi for elections, Congress struggles to forge alliance

  • Published at 09:28 pm March 22nd, 2019
Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the inauguration of the 'Annapurnadham', a Panch Tatva temple, in Adalaj, some 30 kms from Ahmedabad on March 5, 2019 AFP

It was unclear whether Modi will again contest from two constituencies in the polls, which will again see him battle Gandhi for the top post

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again chosen to contest the country's upcoming elections from the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced Thursday.

The Hindu nationalist leader successfully won his first national election in 2014 from northern Uttar Pradesh state's historic city, situated on the banks of the Ganges - one of the most sacred rivers in the Hindu religion, reports AFP. 

The names of 184 contestants were announced by the BJP for the seven phase national elections that will run from April 11 until May 19, with results scheduled to be declared on May 23.

In 2014, Modi also won the Vadodara seat in his home state of Gujarat but gave up his candidature in the western city to represent Varanasi. 

It was unclear whether Modi will again contest from two constituencies in the polls, which will again see him battle Gandhi for the top post.

Gandhi last week announced that he will fight the election from Amethi, another city in the northern state, which he has represented since 2004.

But the Congress party is yet to announce a candidate for Varanasi, where a triangular contest is expected with regional Samajwadi Party, who are also planning to field their candidate in the city for the May 19 poll.

Congress struggles to build alliance

India's Congress party is struggling to forge an opposition alliance to fight a looming election having been rebuffed in the biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, regional party officials say, improving Prime Minister Narendra Modi's chances of a second term, reports Reuters.

Voting begins on April 11 and will be spread over several phases until May 19 to cover the country involving more than 900 million voters, and the count will be made on May 23.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has been seeking an grand alliance with smaller regional parties for months to prevent a split that would make it easier for Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to come out on top.

Officials in regional parties and analysts said Gandhi's strategy has been undermined by Congress leaders' unwillingness to compromise or play second fiddle to regional politicians, some of whom have vaulting ambitions.

Mayawati, the powerful leader of a party championing the cause of the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy in the battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, said earlier this week that she won't tie up with Congress.

Her Bahujan Samaj Party, which possesses a large vote bank in the state, has struck a deal to put up joint candidates with another regional party representing Muslims as well as other lower Hindu castes, she said in a tweet, predicting her alliance would win a majority of the parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh.

"BSP once again wants to make it very clear that in Uttar Pradesh and in the country as a whole we are not in any form of alliance or agreement with Congress," Mayawati said.

A BSP official said that Congress had wanted to run in far too many seats rather than give way to regional parties even though its victory was not assured in those seats.

Gandhi had more success alliance building in the large eastern state of Bihar.

Congress has agreed to run in nine seats out of the 40 at stake in the state, leaving 20 to the regional ally and the rest to be allotted among still smaller parties.

"In Bihar, this is an alliance to save the constitution, if we are not together, we will lose," said Manoj Jha, leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, a party that has helped put together the alliance.

In January, 23 regional groups had held a rally in the eastern city of Kolkata vowing a common platform to fight against Modi, blaming him for creating a climate of fear among India's minority Muslims. Gandhi also promised his support.

Some Congress leaders have argued that the grand old party that led India for most of the first five decades since independence in 1947 needs to stand alone for its long term revival, rather than depend on regional partners' support.

Congress suffered its worst showing in the 2014 election when Modi stormed to power with a commanding majority. And opinion polls show that while the BJP has lost ground since then, it is still the frontrunner in the coming election.

Political commentators said failure to stitch together an opposition alliance would help Modi's BJP win a second term to pursue a Hindu-first agenda that undermines the secular foundations of India's constitution.

"The 2019 battle is not to save Gandhi family or Congress party, the battle is to save India and its future," said Shahid Siddique, editor of Nai Dunya, a Urdu language weekly newspaper.