With Ansari laying claim to Muslim votes, and Rai claiming to have the backing of the sizeable Bhumihar voters, around 2.5 lakhs, the caste equations may change for Modi’s electoral managers.
Rai and Ansari used to be arch rivals with the latter an accused in the murder of the former’s brother. In a statement, Rai welcomed the support.
Mukhtar had earlier wished to contest from Varanasi. However, QED, after writing to all “secular parties” for a consensus candidate, withdrew his name to prevent a split in Muslim votes.
Announcing his support for Rai at QED’s divisional office in Varanasi, Afzal Ansari, national president of QED and Mukhtar’s brother, said the “top leadership wanted him to support a secular party candidate”.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad was in Varanasi Tuesday and there were unconfirmed reports that he had held a meeting with Afzal before the announcement was made.
The BJP’s media in-charge in Varanasi, Sanjay Bharadwaj, said the Congress has “become restless and is now seeking support of criminals”.
Alka Rai, wife of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai who was killed allegedly by Mukhtar Ansari’s aides in 2005, said the offer of support to the Congress has “shamed the Bhumihar community” and she would now raise his support to the Congress among the Bhumihar community. Ajay Rai has carved a space for himself with the community, which has been the basis for his claim to be a local candidate.
Alka Rai, a former BJP MLA, said, “This (QED’s support) is surprising; the heads of the Bhumihar community hang in shame.” When reminded about the murder of Ajay Rai’s brother, Alka Rai said it was surprising that he could agree to take Ansari’s support.
Asked about the relations with Ajay Rai’s family, she said he often visited her home when her husband was alive and when Ajay Rai was in the BJP.
QED leaders said that the sole reason for offering support to Congress was to ensure Modi’s defeat and that there was “no deal”.