Qaish Khan, owner of a sports supplement shop in the Muslim-dominated Beniabagh area of Varanasi, listened attentively as Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal addressed a rally at a nearby park on Tuesday.
He was anxious about the response of the leader to the unsavoury protests that he faced in the city earlier in the day.
“Just because a few unruly elements engaged in such acts [spraying black ink on Mr. Kejriwal] does not mean that the people of Varanasi protested against Mr. Kejriwal,” said Mr. Khan.
“As an Indian, I like Mr. Kejriwal for his honesty. As a Muslim I will support him as we have been cheated by every other party,” he said.
Despite his sympathy for Mr. Kejriwal, Mr. Khan was wary of committing full support to the former Delhi Chief Minister as he feared that the leader might not be able to attract mass support to defeat BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
The Muslim belts of Varanasi, which has around three lakh voters, are eagerly awaiting the Congress naming its candidate.
Muslims are expected to engage in tactical voting to defeat the BJP candidate. Ajay Rai, the Pindra MLA and former BJP man, is considered the frontrunner for the Congress ticket as he commands a good sway among the minority as well as the Brahmins, the two largest communities in the constituency.
The dilemma of Muslims could get bigger if Quami Ekta Dal leader and alleged don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari decided to contest from the seat. QED chief and Mukhtar’s brother Afzal Ansari said the final decision would be announced on Friday.
The AAP is trying to woo weavers to strike a chord with Muslims. Atiq Ansari, who presented a safa (traditional headgear) to Mr. Kejriwal on Tuesday on behalf of the weavers of Varanasi, said both the NDA and the UPA had failed them.
Mr. Modi, in his speech in Varanasi last December, had compared the handloom industries in Surat and Varanasi.
“I requested Mr. Kejriwal to challenge Mr. Modi to present a blueprint on how he plans to change Varanasi into Surat,” said Mr. Ansari, according to whom the dismal condition of weavers in Varanasi was due to the high power bills and cost of labour, and expensive raw material.
Some Muslims dismissed Mr. Kejriwal as a “non-threat” to Mr. Modi. A senior railway official of the Ansari Community said Mr. Kejriwal has “lost his charm” and dismissed his promises to help the weavers as “mere talk”.