About 10,000 members of the BJP's ideological parent, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and 20,000 from its affiliates such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Durga Wahini and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) are pulling out all stops to ensure the victory of Narendra Modi in Varanasi.
These 30,000 cadres are locals. Apart from them, thousands more are flocking to the Hindu holy city from other states. Neither the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nor RSS have agreed to quantify the force, saying they are non-political and trying "only to awaken" the 1.6 million voters here.
Sanjay Bhardwaj, BJP's east UP media-in-charge, said, "About 7,000 people have come to Varanasi from other states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi. On Monday night itself, 150 people came from Haryana. These are mostly pure Modi supporters, without Sangh background. The rush will increase once Modi files his papers and does a road show on April 22."
Ram Kumar, who has left his daily-wage job at a Gujarat factory and have come to Varanasi, told HT, "I'm here for the big May 16 (when poll results are announced) celebration."
A large number of people, quite a few of them Gujarati, celebrated Hanuman Jayanti in Varanasi on Tuesday.
"In the run-up to the polling on May 12, about 30,000 Gujaratis are expected here," said Bhardwaj.
Senior RSS pracharak Nagendra Dwivedi said, "There are 300 RSS shakhas in Varanasi with 10,000 members. Plus there are 20,000 members of VHP, Bajrang Dal, Durga Wahini, ABVP and Bharat Vikas Parishad. So effectively, there are 30,000 people who are working every day to awaken the voters.
ABVP's national executive member Ghanshyam Shahi said, "We're informing voters about issues such as uniform civil code, article 370 (special status to Kashmir) and Ram Mandir."
The VHP's job is to use thousands of temples and many akharas in Varanasi to mobilise support and bring here sadhus-sants from other states.
A former BJP minister, currently in Varanasi, admitted, "Top RSS leadership is coordinating Modi's campaign. There is an apprehension that the city will not be able to take in the rush."
The disciples of yoga guru Ramdev are in town under the banner of Bharat Swabhiman Nyas. Ramdev will himself camp here from May 2 to May 4.
The BJP is also trying its best to whip up the Hindutva sentiment. It has planned a 'Ganga Pranam Yatra' which will have around 100 boats with Modi cut-outs atop them travelling from Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat.
About 10,000 people wearing party caps are likely to take part in this exercise to mobilise support exploiting the sacred river and Shubah-e-Benares cultural connect.
Besides, the party claims to have a solid vote-catching strategy in place.
Chandrashekhar, an RSS pracharak and currently BJP's organisational secretary, said, "For the 1,562 polling booths in Varanasi, we have as many teams comprising 20 members each. There is a youth war room which is linked to 7,500 on-campus and 5,000 off-campus students. For sectors and wards, there are 100 full-time and as many part-time volunteers."
The BJP claims it has 200 teams, each comprising 10 to 20 members, for door-to-door campaigning. There are 500 volunteers who are making phone calls to people, asking them to vote for Modi.
"About 100 volunteers have the mandate to persuade the elite group comprising doctors, lawyers, engineers, besides social and religious groups. In the last 10 days, one fine volunteer each will look after each of the 1,562 booths," Chandrashekhar said.
The Sangh Parivar admits with don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari withdrawing nomination to avoid a split in the 300,000-strong Muslim vote bank, the task has become "slightly difficult".
Besides, Congress nominee Ajay Rai belongs to the 200,000-strong Bhumihar caste.