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BJP evokes Vajpayee as campaign heats up in eastern Uttar Pradesh

Monday, 5 May 2014 - 7:23am IST | Place: Bhadohi | Agency: dna

The Modi electoral bandwagon has now stormed its way into the crucial and utterly under-developed east UP region. Elections for 33 seats in this region are to be held in two phases on May 7 and 12. These seats include Amethi (Rahul Gandhi) and Varanasi from where Modi is contesting.

As he travels into this region, Modi's attacks on his opponents have become sharper and his speeches have begun to reflect a confidence of such magnitude as if he were already PM. That might be considered normal for a campaigner of Modi's stature. But, what has really foxed political watchers here is the sudden and rather drastic change of tack in Modi's electioneering in this region: There is an overwhelming influence of former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee in the saffron campaign.

"The rapid change is to be seen to be believed," says senior Varanasi journalist Mohd. Ishaque. "It's as if it has happened overnight. Most of Modi's hoardings and posters have been replaced by those of Atal ji in which the latter is seen alone," he says. "It's almost as if Vajpayee is contesting the election here," he adds. It's not only in Varanasi. Across the entire Kashi and Gorakhpur regions, hoardings of a smiling Vajpayee have been put up at vantage points in all constituencies. Campaign vehicles also display Atal's face prominently. The punch lines have also changed accordingly. The aggressive "Ghar ghar Modi" and "Abki baar Modi sarkar" slogans have given way to more discreet ones like "Phir hogi tez vikas ki raftaar", "Hoga vikas hoga prakash", and "Sab ka saath sab ka vikas." The gambit reflects the BJP's desperation to make inroads into a region which has been the stronghold of SP and BSP.

"Invoking Atal's name reflects the immediate objective of gaining more acceptability, even among Muslims," says senior political analyst Gyanendra Sharma. "The BJP chant has changed from issues like corruption and rising prices to development and good governance," he adds. In his speeches too, Modi makes it a point to mention Atal's agenda of "vikas" and "su-shasan" (development and good governance). At a huge rally in Bhadohi, once world-renowned for its carpet industry, on Sunday, Modi said: "When Atalji was PM, he started a carpet training and design centre here. But the centre is defunct now, and the carpet industry is dead under the 'maa-bete ki sarkar' (government of mother and son). But I promise I will realize Vajpayeeji's dreams."

Similarly, at a rally in Gonda on Saturday, he had promised to realize another one of the former PM's dreams – the interlinking of rivers for better irrigation. Apart from greater acceptability, Atal's presence even by proxy could also bring in Brahmins, a crucial votebank in this region, apart from Dalits and OBCs. Interestingly, Modi has already started speaking as if he were PM. "I will call for criminal records of all MPs and hand them over to the Supreme Court with the prayer that the Lok Sabha should be cleared of such elements within a year," he said at Bhadohi on Sunday. He promises to do things without using the crucial "if" (he becomes the PM). Some might call it over confidence. But that is the quintessential Modi for you. Take it or leave it. 
2009 party position
May 7 -- 15 seats

Cong — 07
BJP — 00
SP — 04
BSP — 04

May 12 -- 18 seats

Cong — 03
BJP — 04
SP — 06
BSP — 05

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