Most Muslims appear to be veering towards Kejriwal

In the shadow of a statue of revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad, at a busy intersection at Lahurabir, a mahila panchayat is in full swing. It is around 5 p.m. on Thursday, and the street play mimics political campaigns — from musclemen to use of alcohol. But the chief target is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, who is contesting from Varanasi.

Womens groups from across the State have gathered here to make others aware of the significance of their vote and to urge them to to defeat Mr. Modi. While there is some debate on whether to name the candidate whom people should vote for, Padma Singh, one of the organisers says, “If we don’t name one person, the votes will get divided — so we are pitching for the Aam Aadmi Party.”

As polling day draws near, across Varanasi, all those who want to defeat or at least ensure that the margin of Mr. Modi’s victory is reduced, are gradually veering towards the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal again. This follows a brief hiatus in which it had seemed the Congress’s Ajay Rai, a Bhumihar strongman, backed by his one-lakh strong community, might pose a greater challenge. Mr. Rai’s prospects seemed brighter also because the Quami Ekta Party (QED) declared it would back the Congress and withdrew its candidate, Mukhtar Ansari.

But it’s evident that while the three-lakh strong Muslim community is working to ensure that its votes don’t get divided, there is little enthusiasm among its members for the Congress candidate. The QED’s endorsement has also not worked so far.

It’s late evening in Madanpura, a Muslim-dominated locality, home to many of the city’s traders in Banarasi saris. “The people have seen the Congress; it has done little except increase prices. Worse, its candidate is a muscleman. And we won’t vote for Modi,” says H.M. Sagheer, who has a dry fruits business. “Maybe we should try the AAP, but we haven’t yet made up our minds.”

Akram Burari, who is in the Banarasi sari trade, says, “Kejriwal could pose a challenge and no, the QED’s endorsement is worthless.”

Indeed, most Muslims appear to be veering towards Mr. Kejriwal, even though they all maintain that they would wait till closer to the election day to take a final decision.

Even though most people here believe that Mr. Modi is a shoo-in, the BJP is taking no chances, shipping in people from across the country to its expensively appointed hi-tech office here.

Former IAS officer K.J. Alphons has come from Kerala, as has Jayachandran, an Ayurvedic doctor now based in Ahmedabad. Dr. Jayachandran describes himself as a part of Mr. Modi’s core team. Their task? To mobilise the South Indian voters in the city.

If the BJP is working to ensure Mr. Modi wins by three lakh votes, the AAP and its growing band of well-wishers are working to close that gap.

Among AAP’s supporters are the Janata Dal (United). Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and senior party leader Sharad Yadav are expected to campaign for Mr. Kejriwal.