26 March 2014

Varanasi turns into battlefield; Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal, Mukthar Ansari to contest elections

By Saturday night, when the BJP officially announced that its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will contest Lok Sabha polls from Varanasi, the all-too familiar chant Har Har Mahadev — in praise of Shiva, considered the presiding deity of the city — quickly acquired a political suffix: Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi.
But barely 24 hours later that prefix underwent further revision as Arvind Kejriwal declared in Bangalore that he will stand against Modi if people of Varanasi wanted him to contest. AAP's ever-alert army of social networkers took to Twitter with their own slogan — Revolution in Varanasi: Har Har Arvind, Ghar Ghar Arvind.
The sudden euphoria following Modi's candidature has now tempered down a bit, with not many sure how much of a challenge Kejriwal may be able to put up against Modi. Add to it the expectations that mafia donturned-politician Mukthar Ansari may try his hand from the constituency a second time.
Contesting under the BSP flag, he lost to Joshi in 2009 by only 17,200 votes. Ansari had earlier said that he will jump in if Modi contests from Varanasi, eyeing to polarise the sizeable Muslim vote bank.
On the Ghats, where one can easily take the temperature of the township, there is a kind of consensus that apart from the fact that they are getting a PM candidate for the first time, Modi will help change the state of affairs in the constituency that could do with a lot of infrastructure improvement.
Yet, what would weigh the maximum against BJP is the feeling that Modi will have an alternate constituency in Gujarat as a fallback option, and that he may desert Varanasi after the polls. It is this lingering doubt that Team AAP is planning to latch on. At Assi Ghat, boatman Rajesh Mallah says he has a lot of hope from Modi and will support him. "But we hear he is contesting from two seats. Only if he stays in the city will conditions improve here," he tells ET.
Binay Raj Singh, a printing press owner, is confident that the Kejriwal bogey is just an empty threat and that Modi will win hands down. "Joshi would have probably lost this time had he contested. What will be keenly watched is the margin by which Modi wins," he says. He is joined by Rajendra Bihari Lal who says: "It is after many years that a big leader is coming to contest from Varanasi. The city is feeling important about itself after a long time and the euphoria will send Modi home by a big margin. People feel they are choosing a prime minister, not just another MP. This is the dominant feeling in the city."
However, for the city which has nearly 3 lakh Muslim voters, the presence of a figure as polarising as Modi is also a cause of concern for many. "In Modi's Varanasi rally in December he talked about development, providing better looms to weavers of Banarasi sarees, vast majority of whom are Muslims. But politicians talk big during poll time. The city has held its own during communally sensitive times in the early 1990s. But politicians need to tread carefully," says Syed Ghulam Ahmed, who runs a cyber cafe.
economics times.