In the narrow lanes of Varanasi, it is widely believed that senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Murli Manohar Joshi was saved from an imminent defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha election due to the communal polarisation that took effect as late as 48 hours before polling.

The supporters of the Samajwadi Party candidate, Ajay Rai, who holds a substantial clout among locals, allegedly campaigned for Mr. Joshi to ensure the defeat of alleged don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari.

In the end, Mr. Joshi scraped through by 17,000 votes in what turned into a communally polarised contest.

This was significant as Mr. Rai had just quit the BJP after he was denied a ticket, following which he switched camps and contested on SP ticket.

Despite entering the contest just weeks before polling, he stood third, securing 1, 23, 874 (18 per cent) votes. He then joined the Congress.

After weeks of speculation, all eyes are now set on Mr. Rai, the man, the Congress has fielded against Mr. Modi and Mr. Kejriwal in Varanasi.

"I guarantee I will defeat Modi. He is the real threat to the country," says Mr. Rai, who considers himself the 'local underdog' in the battle of ‘outsiders’.

"The real contest here is not Kejriwal vs Modi; it is outsider versus local," he says.

Into his conversation with this correspondent, two Muslims enter the courtyard and invite Mr. Rai to a marriage, to which he obliges. The next few minutes he spends answering phone calls and requests for 'favours'.

"They come to me with hope. And no matter how far away they live I go and try to help them immediately," says Mr. Rai. "Kejriwal and Modi don't know the nerve of Varanasi. The city needs someone who understands its soil," he says.

"Kejriwal ran away (from Delhi) and the other (Modi) will run away (to Vadodara) after winning. In politics, there is a place for the shaheed (martyrs) but not for traitors."

"If even after constructing the Statue of Unity in Gujarat, he feels the need to rope in a party with Patel support, then we can as well dismiss the 'Modi wave.'"

"Beginning his career with the BJP's student wing, a young Mr. Rai, who graduated from the Kashi Vidyapeeth, did the emphatic in 1996, when he defeated nine-time sitting CPI MLA Udal from Kolasla (now Pindra), a seat he retains till today.

In a turn of events, his motive now is to "teach the BJP a lesson."

In 2009, he left the BJP after he was "betrayed" by the party as it handed over the ticket to Mr. Joshi. "I was promised the ticket and I worked hard for a year. But for reasons unknown I was shunted at the last moment."