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Lok Sabha election 2019 key contests: Who are Narendra Modi's rivals in Varanasi

Contesting Lok Sabha election 2019 against Prime Minister Narendra Modi could well be the most challenging prospect for candidates. Also, BJP has lost just once from here - in 2004 - in the last seven Lok Sabha elections.

Lok Sabha election 2019 key contests: Who are Narendra Modi's rivals in Varanasi
PTI Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed his nomination from the Varanasi seat in the Lok Sabha election 2019 on Friday (April 26). This was just a day after a massive roadshow in the holy city which saw lakhs of locals come out to cheer for him.

While this is the second time PM Modi will contest from this Lok Sabha seat, winning in 2014 by over 3.70 lakh votes, he will face off against Congress and Samajwadi Party here.

While BJP and NDA leaders claim that PM Modi will once again cruise to a dominant win in Varanasi which votes in the last phase - on May 19, his rivals say 2019 is not 2014 and the constituency will witness a tough contest.

In 2014, PM Modi had defeated Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal by 3.71 lakh votes. He had secured 5,81,022 votes as against Kejriwal's 2,09,238 votes. In third place was Congress' Ajai Rai who managed a measly 75,614 votes. This year, Congress had once again fielded Rai even though there was speculation that Priyanka Vadhra Gandhi may be chosen to mount a challenge to BJP from here.

Critics of Congress say that Rai is a fall guy and that by not naming Priyanka, Congress has surrendered from a fight that it knows it cannot possibly win. Instead, the party has gone yet again with Rai, a five-time MLA from Uttar Pradesh who, interestingly, had begun his political innings with BJP's student wing. Rai would go on to contest in Assembly elections - winning from Kolasla constituency thrice between 1996 and 2007. Political ambitions made Rai hunt for a Lok Sabha ticket and when it eluded him, he jumped ship and joined SP.

Rai fought the 2009 Lok Sabha election on an SP ticket but finished a distant third to BJP's veteran leader Murli Manohar Joshi and Bahujan Samaj Party's Mukhtar Ansari. The result was a snub for Rai who became an Independent before officially joining Congress and fighting the 2014 Lok Sabha election in a losing cause.

A year later, Rai was sent to jail on charges of violence and arson in Varanasi and was released only seven months later. In what has become a spiralling political career, he would go on to lose the UP Assembly election in 2017 from Pindra constituency.

A string of losses - in Lok Sabha elections as well as Assembly election - has dealt a massive blow to the prospects of Rai mounting any semblance of a challenge to PM Modi this time around. It would, however, be interesting to see the margin of defeat if the election goes as per the wishes of the BJP.

The other candidate of some note in this marquee contest is Shalini Yadav.

A political novice, she is the daughter-in-law of former Rajya Sabha Deputy chairperson Shyam Lal Yadav. She only recently went to SP from Congress. Like Rai, Shalini hardly has much in her political resume to evoke confidence. Even her bid to become Mayor of Varanasi in 2017 had been an exercise in futility. That her father-in-law had won this seat on a Congress ticket in 1984 is all but confined to pages of history.

A fourth challenger in Varanasi is a man may be the most unlikely of candidates but one who had made headlines in January of 2017. Tej Bahadur Yadav was sacked by Border Security Force (BSF) after he uploaded several videos on Facebook in which he complained of food provided to soldiers. The video had gone viral and had led to a massive outcry. Tej Bahadur was eventually court-martialed after an inquiry.

In the months leading up to Lok Sabha 2019 election, Tej Bahadur alleged that he has had to face a number of difficulties because he chose to expose the truth and that he has been 'mentally tortured'. He also claimed that while he was approached by several parties to fight Lok Sabha election 2019 for them, he thought it better to battle as an Independent. He has been seen doing the rounds of Varanasi with his group of supporters, even carrying a box for donations. He filed his nomination on Wednesday (April 24).

There are a few other Independent candidates as well in a battle that could prove to be the most lopsided of Lok Sabha election 2019. The question now is whether PM Modi will be able to increase his margin of win from Varanasi seat - in comparison to 2014 - or will his opponents etch out a little more for themselves this year.