The temple town witnessed a huge surge in voter turnout as 55.34 % of the 17 lakh voters cast their votes on Monday

Braving heat and humidity, amid heavy security arrangements, the public of Varanasi came out in heavy numbers on Monday to decide the fate of the constituency touted as the ground zero of the 2014 elections. Surpassing the record of 2009, when 42 percent voters hit the button, on Monday the temple town witnessed a huge surge in voter turnout as 55.34 percent of the 17 lakh voters cast their votes. BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal and local MLA and Congress candidate Ajay Rai are in the fray. While there was an air of confidence in booths in traditional BJP strongholds such as the Bangali Tola, a Bengali dominated locality, Mr. Kejriwal expressed confidence that he would win in a direct tussle with Mr. Modi. Long queues greeted one at almost every polling station in the city. The obscure location of some of the polling booths, in the midst of congested and winding lanes that draws thousands of tourists to Varanasi each year, did not dissuade voters, who maintained a good rush especially in the second half of the day.

Overall, the mood in the temple town was festive but peaceful. Coming on the back of a high-voltage campaign by the major parties, the stage in Varanasi was well set on the eve of polling as the administration sanitized all hotels, guesthouses and ghats of outsiders. There was also drama as an FIR was lodged against Congress candidate Ajay Rai for allegedly wearing his party batch to the polling booth, sending both the AAP and BJP up in arms. Much of the media focus, however, was on the Muslim-dominated areas. The minority vote, numbering 3 lakh of the 16 lakh electorate, is considered critical for the non-BJP parties. Based on interactions The Hindu had with people of the community, Mr. Kejriwal was the frontrunner in winning their support. "We did our job, the rest is up to God," the words of Aiyaz Ansari, a weaver in Madanpur locality, summed up the mood in the Muslim camp.

As the 6pm deadline neared, one could sense a bustle in the minority dominated areas as Muslims gathered around tea-shops to discuss the state of affairs.

Much of the voting was smooth but in some booths in the rural areas voters lodged minor protests over the alleged deletion of their names in the list.

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