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It’s rich versus poor in Varanasi: At stake is BJP’s dream of installing Narendra Modi as prime minister

By Nachiketa Desai* 
The ganging up of forces with money and muscle power has helped polarization of voters on class line that cuts across caste and communal alignments. The battle of the ballots in Varanasi is fast turning into a struggle for survival for the poor, deprived and the oppressed.
The battle of Varanasi has become crucial for Narendra Modi whose defeat would shatter Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) dream of seeing him as the prime minister. Hence, the BJP, backed by the organized cadre of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, has pulled out all stops – loosening strings of its bottomless money bag to buy support.
Over 5,000 Modi supporters have been brought to Varanasi in buses from Gujarat. They have been lodged in various Gujarati dharmashalas and the sprawling hospice of the Swami Narayan temple. Jain businessmen from Maharashtra and Karnataka have come by their own vehicles to garner support for Modi from their community.
Freebies in the form of watches, pen sets, sarees and T-shirts have been distributed among youth and women in the constituency. Groups of youth can be seen zooming around in motor cycles with BJP stickers. A 24x7 community kitchen provides free food to the BJP workers.
A manual scavenger in Varanasi
BJP has formed polling booth level teams comprising 20 workers for each booth and each worker has been assigned 60 voters to be ‘taken care of’ and brought for voting on the polling day on May 12. A detailed poll management plan has been put in place with the target of ensuring a victory margin of 300,000 votes for Modi.
Modi is facing challenge from anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party and underworld don Ajay Rai of the Congress. Mukhtar Ansari, who has been released on parole from Agra jail to contest election from the Ghoshi Lok Sabha seat in the adjoining Gazipur district, has extended support to his arch rival Rai. Ansari is alleged to have gunned down Rai’s elder brother Avadhesh Rai.
The newly forged alliance between Rai and Ansari has not gone down well with the members of their respective communities – Bhumihars and Muslims. While Bhumihars are likely to gravitate towards the BJP on the polling day, Muslim votes are expected to get split between Congress and AAP.
“Mukhtar Ansari’s decision to support Ajay Rai has thwarted BJP’s game plan to polarize Hindus against Muslims. Varanasi will now witness a Hindu versus Hindu battle,” says Samajwadi Party spokesman Shatrudra Prakash, three-time MLA and former minister. All the three main contestants, Modi, Rai and Kejriwal are Hindus.
Arvind Kejriwal vs Narendra Modi: Rallies while filing nomination
With muscle and money power conspicuously rallying behind Modi and Rai, the poor have begun identifying Kejriwal as ‘one of us’. Cycle rickshaw pullers, weavers, artisans like blacksmith, capenters and potters, roadside vegetable vendors, scavengers, boatmen, small shop keepers are seen sporting the white AAP cap.
Activists of trade unions affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI-ML and even INTUC are campaigning for Kejriwal. Non-government organizations working among the weaker sections and women too are mobilizing support for Kejriwal. This has further bolstered Kejriwal’s image as the only candidate who would work for the interest of the common people and not those money bags who are financing Modi’s election campaign or pay extortion money to the underworld mafia represented by Rai and Ansari.
Kejriwal's direct Q & A session with people
AAP’s manifesto for Varanasi, which the party calls its pledge to the people, has addressed the burning problems of the common man of this oldest living city. The pledge drawn on the basis of door-to-door consultation with the people of Varanasi promises a transparent, people-oriented, accountable development plan for weavers, artisans, boatmen and fishermen, small traders and owners of small industries.
“Our manifesto is not static, it is dynamic and people are invited to send in their suggestions. We will work towards fulfilling our promises even after the elections, whether we win or lose,” says Manish Sisodia, former minister in Kejriwal’s Delhi government.
“We will exert pressure on the state and central governments to accord special status to Varanasi as the world spiritual centre where Islam, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism have co-existed. People know that we can go to any extent to put pressure on the powers that be,” he added.
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*Senior journalist currently in Varanasi. Pix by Nachiketa Desai

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