Having received a drubbing from the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi assembly elections late last year, the Congress leadership does not want to give Arvind Kejriwal a chance to emerge as the number one challenger to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi.
The AAP had emerged as the second-largest party after the BJP in the Delhi assembly polls.
To counter Kejriwal and his appeal among Muslims, senior Muslim leaders of the Congress have hit the campaign trail in the city’s Muslim-dominated areas.
Congress leaders Salman Khurshid, Ghulam Nabi Azad, K Rahman Khan (minority affairs minister) and Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik are camping in Varanasi to mobilise Muslim voters behind Congress candidate Ajay Rai.
The Congress and the AAP are vying for the support of 300,000 Muslim voters, who political pundits feel, may vote en bloc in a bid to defeat Modi.
After Kejriwal was perceived to have replaced Ajay Rai as the main challenger to Modi in the initial phase of campaigning, the Congress leadership pulled out all the stops in a bid to check the AAP leader’s ascent in the temple city.
The task of weaning away Muslim voters from Kejriwal was assigned to Ghulam Nabi Azad and Salman Khurshid.
Azad has already met two prominent clerics — Sheher Qazi Maulana Ghulam Yasin and Mufti-e-Banaras Abdul Batin Nomani. Both these Muslim clerics have considerable sway over the community. Azad also met prominent weaver leader Haji Mukhtar.
Now, K Rahman Khan has also joined Azad and Khurshid in mobilising Muslim voters behind the Congress candidate. Congress observer Kripashankar Singh, an MLA from Maharashtra, has also roped in Nawab Malik — the Muslim face of the NCP — to campaign in Varanasi.
The Congress has already succeeded in getting support of Quami Ekta Dal for Ajay Rai whose brother was allegedly killed by QED leader Mukhtar Ansari in 1991. The case is still pending in the district court.
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