Will Modi Wave Make a Ripple in the Ganges?
The holy city on the banks of the Ganges will see the last leg of LS poll campaign as all top leaders are set to push for one last attempt at wooing voters before the final verdict. The city is all in readiness to witness a Bollywood-esque climax, culminating into one huge showdown for the last time. Despite high voter turnout in the preceding phases, it remains a mystery whether the ‘Modi wave’ will make a ripple in the Ganges that has traditionally been an area that cast votes based on local or regional issues. BJP always has a strong foothold in the constituency and now it will hope to ride on its prime ministerial candidate’s larger than life stature. Modi’s presence in the region will bolster their chances in the nearby constituencies/states as well. Uttar Pradesh (80), Bihar (40), Jharkhand (14) together constitute 134 seats, which is sure to play a pivotal role for BJP to achieve its 272+ target in the LS polls.
Here are the major players in fray: Ajay Rai, once a BJP member now with the Congress, with a history of criminal records; Narendra Modi, BJP’s election torch bearer; Mukhthar Ansari, a candidate contesting from Varanasi’s adjoining Ghosi constituency, who commands sizeable Muslim votes and nearly defeated Murli Manohar Joshi last time; and then there is Arvind Kejriwal.
If the list of leaders vying for the constituency wasn’t enough to pique the interest, there was also additional drama when Election Commission had trouble with BJP in the constituency. The EC had denied permission to Narendra Modi’s rally in the city after Gujarat police’s red flag to hold the rally. As a sign of protest, Modi, accompanied by senior party leaders, took out a roadshow in the temple city defying prohibitory orders over the denial of permission. The following day, the EC decided to send Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar a special observer for the Varanasi seat.
Meanwhile, AAP Convener Arvind Kejriwal has slipped under the radar, campaigning through the alleys of Varanasi raising civic issues. He also went on to challenge Modi for a public debate and questioned why the party is avoiding “matters related to the common man”. Recently, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind extended its support to the AAP, reaffirming Kejriwal’s opposition to the saffron party. If the tan on his face is anything to go by, the IIT alumni will give Modi a run for his money. Last 20 days, Kejriwal has been extensively campaigning on the streets of Varanasi holding small meetings on every nook and corner.
Varanasi: Over the years:
Congress candidate Ajay Rai has been raising the “insider vs. outsider” card in this poll campaign, and has now joined hands with local mafia-turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, who lost to BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi by a mere 17000 votes. Ansari, who commands great respect among the 3 lakh Muslim population in Varanasi, is also one of the accused in Ajai Rai’s elder brother’s murder. According to official figures, Ajay Rai campaign expenditure stands five times more than Narendra Modi’s. Even ‘Aam Aadmi’ Kejriwal’s expenditure is more than Modi in the holy city.
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In the nearby constituency Azamgarh, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh will try to replicate the success his party had in the previous Assembly election. The SP leader’s move to contest from the Muslim-stronghold is seen as an attempt to stamp his authority. Will SP, with its perceived pro-Muslim image, by contesting in the neighborhood constituency be able to mitigate the apparent ‘Modi wave’ in the state?