Few doubt the outcome in this spiritual capital of India that goes to polls on Monday. But the BJP is anxious about the victory margin of its poster boy Narendra Modi.
A groundswell for Modi, party workers charged up like never before, the idea of having a Prime Minister as the local MP and a
resurgence of Hindutva sentiments makes a perfect recipe for BJP's victory in Varanasi.
But the last-minute excitement following impressive road shows by AAP's Arvind Kejriwal, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav has prompted the BJP to cross-check its own figures. The party, however, believes Kejriwal and Congress candidate Ajay Rai will battle it out for the second spot with the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party candidates "out of the race".
Kejriwal is said to have made inroads into the Congress' minority vote bank - Muslims account for 3.5 lakh of the total 17 lakh voters in Varanasi. Upper caste supporters of Congress are also believed to be in discomfort with muscleman Mukhtar Ansari backing Rai, a rival in the region.
Between Rai and Kejriwal, BJP leaders say, Muslims would put their money on the man who will have the maximum Hindu votes. Kejriwal, they add, appears to be the frontrunner in terms of appealing to both communities.
The saffron party is also aware that its 2009 victory margin of 17,000 - veteran MM Joshi was the candidate then - was too narrow for comfort. It is thus aiming at a 'record-breaking' victory that a "Modi tsunami", as BJP's general secretary UP in-charge Amit Shah describes it, deserves.
Barring 2004, BJP has retained Varanasi since the Ayodhya days, and 1998 and 1996 were the only two Lok Sabha elections when it won this seat with a margin of more than 100,000 votes. The highest was 151,946 votes in 1998.
That year, BJP candidate Shankar Prasad Jaiswal polled 277,232 votes with CPM's Deena Nath Singh Yadav bagging 125,286 votes. Since then, the total votes polled by a BJP candidate has struggled to touch the 200,000 mark.
"It was for this reason that Shah forged an alliance with Apna Dal even at the cost of conceding one extra seat to it," a BJP leader said.
An outfit of Kurmis, Apna Dal dominates two - Rohaniya and Sevapuri - of total five assembly segments of the Varanasi LS seat. The remaining three are BJP strongholds. Apna Dal polled nearly 66,000 votes in 2009 Lok Sabha election and over 96,000 votes in the 2012 assembly election.
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