In the last leg of the high-voltage battle for Uttar Pradesh, the campaign in Varanasi reached fever pitch on Saturday, with the Congress and the Samajwadi Party determinedly putting up a huge show of strength.
It was a battle of roadshows in the congested lanes of the temple town, with youth leaders of the two parties, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, leading the charge.
Mr. Gandhi threw his weight behind party candidate Ajay Rai, leading a massive rally over a distance of 10 km. Mr. Gandhi kicked off his show from a Muslim-dominated locality, accompanied by thousands of flag-waving, slogan-shouting supporters.
Mr. Gandhi’s convoy passed through Beniabagh, where the Election Commission had disallowed Mr. Modi from holding a rally.
The Congress leader appeared to be paying back the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, in his own coin. The BJP leader had campaigned in Mr. Gandhi’s constituency, Amethi. Mr. Gandhi lashed out at Mr. Modi’s development model, and appealed to voters to support Mr. Rai.
He ended his roadshow by garlanding the statue of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya outside the gate of Banaras Hindu University, from where the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and Mr. Modi had kicked off their motorcades.
Half an hour after Mr. Gandhi's show of strength, it was Mr. Yadav’s turn to hit the road. His convoy passed through some localities that Mr. Gandhi covered but scrupulously avoided the Congress leader’s route.
The fight in Varanasi, according to many, is a “Kejriwal vs. Modi” show, but after Saturday’s turnout at Mr. Gandhi’s rally, Congress leaders admit, Mr. Rai, the “local boy” and Pindra MLA, has got a much-needed boost.
Non-BJP parties, particularly the Congress and the AAP, are battling to secure the votes of the 3.5 lakh Muslims. The importance of the minority vote can be gauged from the fact that both roadshows on Saturday passed through many Muslim localities.