B.Com. student and first-time voter Saleha flashed her inked finger for the cameras at Badshah Bagh. She was accompanied by her neighbour Neelofar, and they claimed that AAP was the community’s choice there.
Muslims have some 3 lakh votes in Varanasi, which were split between the Congress, SP and BSP in earlier elections.
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While the Congress banked on the Muslim vote this time, its hopes seemed to have taken a blow even opposite its own office in Sigra, where Muslims returning from the polling booth confirmed their choice.
They said the contest was between Kejriwal and Modi.
“It’s a tough contest now,” said Abdul Alam.
That mood was echoed across the constituency as The Indian Express met people at more than 20 places, in villages and urban streets, village dhabas and tea stalls in the city.
Muslims seemed to have voted for AAP despite Quami Ekta Dal president Afzal Ansari repeatedly urging the community to vote for the Congress. Besides, Congress candidate Ajay Rai had accepted the support of Mukhtar Ansari, the man accused of murdering his brother, in the hope of securing Muslim votes.
Supporters of rival groups confronted each other and claimed their respective victories, but finally agreed the contest was tough and bipolar. And as if to back that claim, Congress supporters could not be seen at these places.
The most symbolic tussle was at a dhaba in Kapsethi. While some villagers said Kejriwal is winning, others banked on Modi. When the debate turned ugly, a BJP supporter sought to seal the argument and said: “Perhaps by just one vote, but Modi will win.”
Such an admission seems to mark a turnaround in just 10 days. While the BJP earlier claimed that Modi would register the biggest ever Lok Sabha victory by a margin of nearly 6 lakh, and Modi still seems the favourite, the gap seems to have sharply narrowed now.
Kapsethi is in Sevapuri assembly constituency, an outer rural zone of Varanasi. In Purushottampur, a village of Dalits and weak OBCs, people claimed the “jhadoo (broom) is winning”.
While Kejriwal was expected to gain in urban areas, his penetration of rural areas marked by caste-based voting is considered significant. A Banaras Hindu University doctor, Sandeep Singh, said that he with his friends voted for Modi, but the contest would be tough.
People, who once rejected and rebuked Kejriwal, now claimed he had made inroads in the last few days. Modi might still win, they said, but within a fortnight and without any base AAP had grown roots in the BJP’s fort of Varanasi.
Taxi driver Sunil Kumar voted for Modi but said: “I sincerely want Modiji to win, but we never thought Kejriwal would come so close. He has got support from people.”
At a tea stall near BHU, some people claimed that many in the area voted for AAP. “I voted for him because I know that if he wins he would do something for the area.”