The battle in Varanasi might eventually be a 'Arvind Kejriwal versus Narendra Modi' affair with alleged don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari considering his candidature from the seat.
Ever since the AAP chief Mr. Kejriwal announced that he would challenge the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate from Varanasi, the AAP has been trying to convince Mr. Ansari's party Quami Ekta Dal to withdraw his name.
Anti-BJP and 'secular' groups have also urged Mr. Ansari to withdraw as they fear a 'Modi-Mukhtar' showdown will lead to a polarization of votes on communal lines.
The QED told The Hindu that it will take a final call in its parliamentary meeting on March 25, the day Mr. Kejriwal will also finalize his candidature in a rally in Varanasi.
Mr. Ansari was initially only to contest from Ghosi. His wife Afshan was named as the candidate from Varanasi.
The AAP has requested the QED to opt out of the battle and instead support Mr. Kejriwal's campaign against Mr. Modi, party sources revealed.
But QED chief and Mr. Mukhtar's brother former BSP MP Afzal Ansari dismissed the proposal as he contends that his party will be the main opponent to Mr. Modi.
"There is not a single seat where we are looking to benefit or harm any party. We are contesting to win. In Varanasi we will emerge as the biggest force to challenge Mr. Modi, take my word for it. We are the contenders, why will we back out? How can these outsiders think they are in a better position to win?" asked Mr. Afzal.
He said he would request the police to bring his brother, who is lodged in Agra jail, out on parole for a week to campaign in Varanasi.
Mr. Modi's opponents are hoping to secure local support by speculating the possibility of Mr. Modi vacating Varanasi in the likelihood he also contests from another seat in Gujarat.
"We work on local and ground issues. What has Modi contributed to the region to demand the votes? He is here only to play with the feelings of the people," Mr. Afzal said.
Mr. Azfal Ansarti claimed that a five-member team of AAP approached him requesting the withdrawal of Mukhtar from Varanasi and also suggested that his party support Mr. Kejriwal's campaign.
Vaibhav Maheshwari, UP AAP convenor, however, denied this.
"Officially nobody from AAP has approached them. And we will take action anyone who meets them," he said.
Mr. Ansari, however, said he had CCTV footage to prove that AAP representatives met him.
"They are behaving like this because I rejected them at the first instance," he said.
Even as the big guns prepare to tussle it out in Varanasi, the QED is leading a pack of seven other fringe parties, led by tainted leaders, under the banner of Ekta Manch in a bid to upset the electoral equations in east UP. These are the Bhartiya Samaj Party led by Om Prakash Rajbhar, Rashtriya Parivartan Dal of don-turned-politician and former MP D.P.Yadav; Sarvajan Vikas Party of Ram Sagar Bind; Phoolan Sena led by Gopal Nishad, Janwadi Party led by Omprakash Chauhan and Mahan Dal led by Keshav Dev Maurya. The group, includes three debutants, Phoolan Sena, Dalit Mahasangh and Sarvajan Vikas Party, is set to contest all 80 seats in UP.
QED general secretary Tariq Shamim claims that the Ekta Manch would be a formidable force in "at least 10 Lok Sabha seats" in east UP. "From the Ghagra to Sonbhadra, our presence cannot be ignored. We are contesting with the sole motive of winning," he said.
Of the 40 odd candidates announced by the Manch, the prominent ones are D.P Yadav, who will fight from Ghazipur, Afzal Ansari from Ballia and Om Prakash Bajbhar from Salempur.
Mr. Yadav will tussle it out with Shivkanya Kushwaha, the wife of jailed former BSP Minister Babu Singh Kushwaha who will contest on a SP ticket.
Mr. Yadav had contested 2009 Lok Sabha election as a BSP nominee from Badaun and had stood second against SP's Dharmendra Yadav but was denied a ticket by the SP in 2012 Assembly elections.
The Ansari brothers had contested from Varanasi and Ghazipur on a BSP ticket in 2009 but both stood second in their respective constituencies. The other seats where the Ekta Manch hopes to make an impact are seats Kushinagar, Azamgarh, Badohi, Ambedkarnagar, Chandauli, Lalganj and Robertsganj. The Manch is hoping to upset voting trends among Muslims, Bindhs, Chauhans, Nishads, Kushwahas and Dalits.