Political volunteers stream in ahead of high-profile battle in Varanasi

A BJP supporter, dressed up like Narendra Modi, flashes victory sign as AAP supporters in Varanasi. (PTI) A BJP supporter, dressed up like Narendra Modi, flashes victory sign in Varanasi. (PTI)

As political temperature hots up in this ancient temple town for the blockbuster fight, large number of volunteers of all three major players –Congress, BJP and Aam Aadmi Party– have streamed into the city from across the country to add muscle to the campaign of their candidates.

Scores of AAP volunteers have been running an aggressive door-to-door campaign for last one month but now a sizeable number of Congress and BJP workers from various states have joined their local counterparts in the battle of ideologies.

BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is facing challenges from AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and Congress’ Ajay Rai, a Varanasi local and the MLA from nearby Pindra assembly seat.

With just two days left for campaigning to end, Congress and BJP workers have been arriving here in hordes by train and bus to ensure victory of their respective candidates. Polling here will take place on Monday.

“I have come here to campaign for Modiji as the country needs his leadership. I came on my own and have been campaigning here for last four days,” said Ramesh Srivastava, a BJP worker from Bhopal.

Wearing a T-shirt bearing Modi’s image, Srivastava said he has taken 15-days leave from his employer to campaign for the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. He said scores of BJP supporters from Madhya Pradesh have been campaigning here for Modi. As Congress campaign witnessed a fresh enthusiasm in the last few days, a large number of party supporters have arrived here to canvass for Rai, who has termed the fight as being one between a “son of soil and outsiders”.

“We have been Congress supporters for last so many decades. I know Congress has not been able to live up to expectations. But still the party has never tried to divide the country on religious lines. I have come here on my own to campaign for Ajay Rai,” said 60-year-old Imam Chayani, a native of Rajkot in Gujarat.

Draped with the Congress flag around his body and holding the national flag, Chayani has been visiting various Muslim dominated areas on the outskirts of Varanasi, asking people to vote for Rai. Varanasi has around three lakh Muslim voters who may play a vital role in the election.

His campaign colleague Atshe Lal, hailing from Jhanshi, said he was very agitated against Modi after hearing the campaign punch-line ‘Har har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi’ and decided to come to Varanasi on his own to garner support for Congress. “I came here five days back and have been campaigning for the Congress. I go out in the morning and come back in the evening to party office here where I spend the nights. This is a fight between contrasting ideologies and that inspired me to come here,” said Lal.

A large number of Congress workers, including Youth Congress members from Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, spend the nights in a big meeting hall at the two-storey party office in Sigra area of Varanasi.

“We are fighting to win the election. This is not just an election. It is more than that. Our workers are trying hard to defeat the divisive forces,” said Congress’ star campaigner Nagma, who has been camping here for the last one week. A number of AAP volunteers said though BJP and Congress have got people from outside Varanasi to campaign, they are “no match for us”.

“We came here a month back and people here have started treating us like a part of the city. Our message has been well received by the people here,” said Ankit Tyagi, an AAP volunteer from Delhi.

In 2009 Lok Sabha elections, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi had won the seat after defeating Mukhtar Ansari, who is currently in a jail in a murder case, by a margin of 17,000 votes. Ansari, who is known to have a strong support base among the Muslims, has supported Rai. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Kailash Chaurasiya, a sitting MLA from nearby Mirzapur.