An unseemly war of polemics has broken out among the BJP cadres in Varanasi with the saffron brigade in this holy city vertically split into two groups owing allegiance either to Narendra Modi or incumbent MP Murli Manohar Joshi. The BJP leadership has given indications that Modi could contest the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi. But Joshi has made it clear that he is no mood to budge.
On Friday, the self-styled 'Modi Army', comprising mainly of BJP's youth wing workers, started a signature campaign to press for the BJP's prime ministerial candidate to be named as the party's candidate from Varanasi. They have put up a huge poster of Modi at the Godaulia crossing in the heart of the city. The local people of Varanasi are being encouraged to sign their support for Modi under his poster.
"Our aim is to gather at least five lakh signatures in three days. We will send it to the party leadership in Delhi so that Modi ji contests from here," said Dharmendra Gupta, convenor of the 'Modi Army'. He said all BJP workers respected MM Joshi and their campaign was in no way meant to show any disrespect to the outgoing MP.
On the other hand, Joshi supporters have put up his posters all over the city. Though the posters carry greetings for 'Holi', the sudden onslaught is seen as a clear indication that Joshi is in no mood to surrender his seat. A legend under the poster says: "Baba Vishwanath ka haath rahega Dr Joshi ke saath." (Lord Vishwanath, the presiding deity of Varanasi, will bless Dr Joshi.) This "blessing" is obviously in reference to the next election.
BJP sources say the Modi-Joshi tug-of-war started after an RSS camp held of the region's 'pracharaks' (local area heads) in Varanasi from February 13 to 16. The RSS leaders are reported to have told the Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat that putting up Modi from Varanasi, the centre of east UP, would immensely boost party prospects in the entire east UP (which accounts for an impressive 32 Lok Sabha seats) and even in neighbouring Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.
The sources say that Bhagwat, who also addressed the RSS camp, had conveyed this to Joshi. "It is only after this meeting that the Joshi camp has suddenly become aggressive," a Varanasi-based BJP leader said.
Joshi has been camping in Varanasi since Monday last and plans to stay on for a fortnight, which party sources say is an unusually long sojourn for the BJP veteran in the holy city.
For his part, Joshi has refused to speak to the media on this issue. His personal assistant Rajiv Belwal takes all the calls on Joshi's mobile but refuses to get the MP on the line if any journalist calls.