Naseeb Akhtar, a sari shop owner had been waiting at the Beniabagh Maidan for AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal’s rally arrival since noon though he was scheduled to speak after 3pm. Akhtar had arrived early to stand near the stage for a clear view of Kejriwal. “If it becomes clear that the Congress doesn’t want to put up a strong candidate against Modi, our community could be galvanised to vote for Kejriwal,” he said.
Muslims, numbering 3.5 lakh in Varanasi, have a strong influence in the constituency and if they decide to vote for Kejriwal en bloc, he could emerge as a tough challenger to Modi.
While Varanasi has been a BJP stronghold and has sent a BJP MP since 1991 (barring 2004 when the Congress won), Muslims here are a decisive factor. In the last election, the community voted for BSP candidate Mukhtar Ansari, giving the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi a scare. Ansari lost by a narrow margin of 17,000 votes.
This election, with Ansari cooling his heels in jail and the Congress yet to announce a candidate, Kejriwal could well be the Muslim community’s candidate.
The support for Kejriwal from Muslims could be gauged by their response to his speech at the rally. The crowd, numbering more than 40,000, had a majority of Muslims, identifiable by their skull caps,who cheered at his every attack on Modi.