The power of two

Narendra Modi has been showering projects and schemes on his Varanasi constituency, which will also host the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas programmes as a grand finale for his five years as MP. The prime minister established a camp office with party workers and handpicked volunteers in the holy city soon after getting elected in 2014. The BJP has claimed the Central and state governments (after Yogi Adityanath became chief minister) have sanctioned more than Rs 50,000 crore for the city. Modi even serenaded his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on the cleaned up ghats of the Ganga.

While there is certainty that Modi will contest again from Varanasi, a closely guarded secret is which will be his second constituency. In 2014, for his first foray into parliamentary arena, he had contested from Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat, and from Varanasi, winning both by very handsome margins. Modi had gone to Vadodara to make an emotional speech that he would resign the seat, but would always treat it as his own constituency. The BJP retained the seat in the subsequent byelection.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

But now, it is unlikely that he would return to Gujarat. The feeling is that he would choose such a constituency which would be a bridge to a hitherto unconquered region for the BJP. That was one of the purposes of choosing Varanasi, even though it was held by former party president Murli Manohar Joshi. Modi chose one of the holy cities to send a hindutva message, but brought the focus on Uttar Pradesh and capitalised on a badly divided opposition. Uttar Pradesh remains his focus because of the sheer number of MPs it sends to the Lok Sabha.

There is speculation that his attention will move further east, as north and west Indian states are already strongly with the BJP. The two states where the BJP has been concentrating hard are West Bengal and Odisha, with 42 and 21 Lok Sabha seats, respectively.

The BJP has only two MPs in West Bengal, and just one in Odisha. Political commentator Siddharth Reddy says Modi may choose Kolkata Uttar as the emotional bridge into Bengal. He says since the birthplace of Swami Vivekananda is in this bustling constituency comprising north Indian migrants, it would be appropriate. Modi has always shown his fascination for Vivekananda throughout his political career, and his parents had given him the original name of the monk, who had shaken the world and the country. Modi’s presence in the electoral arena would also help polarise the anti-Mamata votes.

The Odisha unit of the BJP, however, has been demanding that Modi should choose one of the general constituencies in the state. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who has been spearheading the party’s efforts in the state, has articulated that the BJP can end the dominance of Odisha strongman Naveen Patnaik. The Telangana unit has pointed out that if Modi were to contest from Secunderabad, a cosmopolitan and technological hub, he can galvanise the party in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, which have a combined total of 42 Lok Sabha seats.

Interestingly, there are suggestions that even Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Modi’s most visible rival, should contest from an additional seat. There are suggestions that he should look at a southern state to make a statement, as the Congress and its allies are perceiving a strong chance in Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Another major leader who is expected to contest two seats is Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had done so in 2014 as well.

Neither Rahul nor Mulayam has responded to the speculation. Modi, who has a habit of keeping secrets even from his closest colleagues, has definitely not revealed any preference, even though he is feeding the data into his mental political computer.