Sitting Congress MLA from Pindra in Varanasi, Ajai Rai, who had contested the Lok Sabha election against Narendra Modi is considered his party’s strongest hope in Varanasi this Assembly election. But while the Congress has been eager to hold a grand show of its alliance with the Samajwadi Party in favour of Rai, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is reportedly not very keen. Yadav, who had strongly opposed the merger of jailed don Mukhtar Ansari’s party Quami Ekta Dal in the Samajwadi Party, is said to have had reservations against Rai who has cases against him. Two roadshows tentatively planned for Varanasi have been cancelled during the last 10 days.
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Rai was arrested in October 2015 in connection with a case of violence and arson during a protest rally by seers in Varanasi who were demanding permission for immersion of idols in Ganga. Varanasi Police had then booked Rai under National Security Act. The NSA was set aside by Allahabad High Court later and he was granted bail in April 2016 — after almost six months in jail. Having planned a joint road-show with Akhilesh twice in the past in Varanasi, Congress and Samajwadi Party ostensibly failed to reach a consensus on the route. For the record, the reasons were logistics — from not getting permission for the route to security considerations. But sources confirm that key to the cancellation was, most probably, the CM’s reluctance to campaign in favour of Rai in Pindra.
Result: Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has decided to go it alone and address a public meeting in favour of Ajay Rai at National Inter College ground in Pindra on March 2. After this public meeting, both leaders are expected to hold a joint show on March 4 and sources said that, as per the present plan, Pindra is not likely to be part of this show. Of the eight Assembly seats in Varanasi, Congress and SP are contesting four seats each and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being top of the target of both Rahul and Akhilesh, this joint show in Varanasi is significant for both. Apart from Pindra, Congress is also contesting Varanasi South from where former MP Rajesh Mishra is the candidate; Varanasi Cantonment where Anil Srivastava is contesting the election and in Varanasi north, former SP MLA Abdul Samad Ansari is contesting as the Congress candidate. He is referred as “SP candidate on Congress ticket” in the region.
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The first Akhilesh-Rahul joint road show was planned for February 11 but failure to get permission for the route was cited as the reason for cancellation. Then next joint show was planned this Monday i.e. February 27 but both leaders preferred to be in Gorakhpur where the election is in sixth phase today rather than Varanasi. “We do not know why it was cancelled. Both the leaders are travelling across the state so there might be some clash of schedule but these things are best known to them.” said Prajanath Sharma, District President of Congress in Varanasi. He said that he was busy with preparations for Rahul’s public meeting on March 2 but was not sure about the March 4 joint meeting.
Samajwadi Party District President Piyush Yadav also expressed ignorance over the exact reason for the cancellation. “There are various factors involved considering the security of the leaders including their availability as well as routes but we are not directly involved in them,” he said. Confirming the joint roadshow on March 4, he said, “We have just got confirmation. The show is likely to start from the police lines from where the rath would be ready and end at BHU near the statue of Malviya ji.”
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Asked whether the route would cover Pindra, Yadav said, “It would largely cover Varanasi south, Varanasi North and Varanasi cantonment area but Pindra falls in the outskirts and thus it will be difficult to cover it.” With the polling for the last phase due on March 8, this joint road show is expected to be the last joint road show of Congress and SP for this election. Sources said that while Congress wants to highlight the plight of projects related to the Ganga clean-up project and dispute the claim of Prime Minister to turn Kashi into Kyoto, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav plans to highlight how he had given 24 hours electricity to the city on the request of seven-time BJP MLA from Varanasi south Shyam Deo Chaudhary, who has been denied candidature by BJP this time despite his claim that he is still fit to contest.