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Varanasi: Story Behind the 3.2 Lakh Drop in PM Modi's Margin & Rise of Ajay Rai

Analysis of Narendra Modi's reduced victory margin in Varanasi and its electoral significance.

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Elections
5 min read
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh for a third consecutive term by defeating Congress candidate Ajay Rai by a margin of 1,52,513 votes.

According to the results declared by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on 4 June, Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from the seat, polled 6,12,970 votes with a vote share of 54.24 percent.

The Prime Minister's victory margin, however, is less than the margin in 2019 and 2014. In 2019, Modi polled 6,74,664 votes and won against Samajwadi Party's Shalini Yadav by a margin of 4,79,505 votes. In 2014, when Modi contested from the seat for the first time, the victory margin between him and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Arvind Kejriwal was 3,71,784 votes.
Analysis of Narendra Modi's reduced victory margin in Varanasi and its electoral significance.

What explains this drop in Modi's victory margin? The Quint looked at the finer data sets to understand.

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The Story So Far...

In 2014, when Modi, who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, was eyeing the top post as BJP's prime ministerial candidate, he chose to contest from two seats — Vadodara in Gujarat, and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

There were two reasons behind his second choice:

  • Varanasi's strategic position which was expected to help Modi yield equal impact in both UP and Bihar. These two states together send 120 MPs to the Parliament. Winning even 50 percent of these seats can help any national party form the government at the centre.

  • The second reason is Varanasi's position in the larger cultural context. Popularly known as Kashi, it is associated with the Hindu god Shiva, and is home to the dispute over the Gyanvapi mosque. A temple-mosque dispute similar to those in Ayodhya and Mathura, the Gyanvapi issue was in cold storage for decades till it was resuscitated in 2019 after the Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi case.

In 2014, when Modi contested from the seat for the first time, Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal fought against him and polled over 2 Lakh votes (20.30 percent) to emerge as the number two candidate. On number three was Congress' Ajay Rai who polled 75,614 votes (7.34 percent) votes.

In 2019, Modi polled 6,74,664 votes and increased his vote share to 63.62 percent from 56.37 percent in 2014, an increase of 7.25 percentage points. While the AAP did not contest election from the seat this time, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) contested as part of an alliance. SP candidate Shalini Yadav polled 1,95,159 (18.40 percent votes). And Congress' Ajay Rai was again on number three position with 1,52,548 (14.38 percent) votes.

This time (in 2024) Modi's vote share came down to 54.24 percent, a drop of a little over nine percentage points from last time.

Zooming In On Assembly Segments

Varanasi has five Assembly segments: Rohaniya, Varanasi North, Varanasi South, Varanasi Cantt, and Sevapuri.

The Quint analysed Modi's performance in these segments separately.

In Rohaniya, which according to the 2011 census data, has approximately 70 percent rural and 13 percent Dalit voters, Modi polled 1,45,379 votes in 2019. In 2024, the Prime Minister's tally is down to 1,27,508 votes.

Interestingly, Congress' Ajay Rai, who polled 12,981 votes in 2014 and 17,799 votes in 2019, improved his tally to 1,01,225 votes.

In Varanasi North Assembly constituency, Modi polled 1,31,241 votes, contrary to 1,39,279 votes polled in 2019. The gains, again, were made by the Congress which won 1,01,731 votes as compared to its 2019 performance of 39,173 votes. An urban constituency, Varanasi North has approximately 10 percent Dalit votes.

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In Varanasi South, Prime Minister Modi went from 1,04,982 votes in 2019 to 97,878 votes in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The SP and Congress candidates in 2019 won 19,298 and 45,299 votes respectively. In 2024, where the two parties fought together as an alliance, Congress' Ajay Rai polled 81,738 votes — 17,141 votes more than the combined votes polled by candidates of both the parties in 2019.

With 14.68 percent Dalit vote, Sevapuri is a 90 percent rural Assembly constituency. This is where Modi suffered a loss of over 20,000 votes as he polled 1,08,890 votes compared to his 2019 tally of 1,28,00 votes. The Congress which polled only 8,685 seats in this Assembly in 2019, improved its tally to 86,751 votes in 2024. This happened as the Samajwadi Party, which won 59,936 votes in the previous election, sat out of the contest as part of the alliance.

In Varanasi Cantt, another urban Assembly segment, the Congress went from 41,500 votes in 2019 to 86,751 votes in 2024. This came as the SP, which in 2019 polled 24,302 votes sat out of the contest and the BJP won 1,45,922 votes — 9,891 votes less than its 2019 tally.

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The Alliance Impact

It is clear that across Assembly segments, the BJP saw a consistent dip in absolute votes polled. The impact was more pronounced in the two rural segments, Rohaniya and Sevapuri, where the party polled approximately 17,000 and 20,000 votes less than its tally in 2019.

The data also shows a seemingly smooth vote transfer from the Samajwadi Party to Congress.

In May 2024, only weeks before the election, when The Quint visited Varanasi and spoke to several BJP and RSS workers, a stark pattern of complacency and indifference towards campaigning on ground was visible. Several workers this reporter spoke with said that because Varanasi is the Prime Minister's constituency, organisations such as the Bajrang Dal or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad do not function as actively as they do in Opposition ruled states. "The nature of our work is to rebel against the system and fight with state governments for the rights of the Hindus. Who do we fight against in Varanasi? Sarkaar humaari hi hai...(this is our government)," a senior VHP member had said.

As the BJP, with 240 MPs attempts to form a coalition government, Modi's relatively thin victory margin as compared to several Opposition and BJP leaders, is also being seen as a product of the party's performance in Uttar Pradesh where it won 33 seats as compared to its tally of 62 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

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