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HindustanTimes Sat,27 Dec 2014

In Varanasi, it's urban Narendra Modi versus rural Arvind Kejriwal

Brajesh Kumar, Hindustan Times  Varanasi, May 07, 2014
First Published: 11:26 IST(7/5/2014) | Last Updated: 12:46 IST(8/5/2014)

Amit Kumar Singh, a 40-year-old transporter, is a self declared Narendra Modi fan.

A resident of Jagatgunj in the heart of the temple town, Singh with a long tilak on his forehead says, "Modi ko PM banana hai, Modi ko jitana hai."

Singh, who is not a BJP worker, is busy mobilising his Rajput community to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate.

Few kilometers away at Rath Yatra Chowk near the famous Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, Ashish Agarwal is another vocal Modi admirer who not only wears the saffron party cap but has also its flag hoisted on his Agarwal Electronic shop.

Singh and Agarwal are part of the temple town's vast Modi fan tribe that wants to see him as their MP. And this multitude is besides the thousands of party workers who are out in the streets of Varanasi to campaign for the Gujarat chief minister.

And looking at the deluge of saffron caps and flags in the every nook and cranny of the town, one would think Modi would steamroll his rivals - Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal and Congress candidate Ajay Rai.

But, then as one moves further away from the bustling urban part of the constituency the picture starts changing.

In Rohaniya and Sevapuri, the two rural assembly segments (out of the total five), it's Kejriwal who holds the fort.

Interestingly, Congress' Rai is conspicuous by his absence in the city as well as the rural pockets.

At Mohan Sarai village under the Rohaniya assembly segment, a group of young men are discussing Kejriwal's public meeting that took place in their neighbourhood a few days ago.

Ayub Khan who runs a grocery store, gleefully recounts Kejriwal's punch lines in his speech attacking Modi.

Among the best he remembers is "Jo Kejriwal se darta hai woh do seaton se ladta hai", referring to Modi's decision to contest from both Varanasi and Vadodara.

A Congress supporter until now, this election, he says, he will vote for the AAP for he believes "Kejriwal is a man of principles".

His friend Sri Ram Yadav, a hardcore Samajwadi Party supporter, is another AAP convert.

According to him Kejriwal's honesty has forced him to switch sides.

"And anyways the SP is inconsequential in Varanasi so why waste a vote," Yadav adds.

One gets to hear similar sentiments for Kejriwal all around Rohaniya and Sevapuri.

"Kejriwal has made major inroads in the two constituencies where he has been focusing on since he arrived here a month ago," Gopal Nath, a professor at the Banaras Hindu University, told HT.

His influence over the rural population which constitutes about 40% of the constituency and includes backward castes like Patel (kurmi), Rajbhar, Kumhar, Yadav, and Kanhar, says Nath, has been a recent development and attributes its reason to the intense campaigning by AAP and Kejriwal.

The BJP has been traditionally weak in Varanasi with both the assembly seats going to other parties in the 2012 assembly elections. The BJP stood sixth, polling only 9,811 votes from Sevapuri and in Rohaniya, the BJP stood a dismal fourth.

"He has held innumerable nukkad and chaupal meetings in almost all the villages of the two constituencies and as he kept on painting Modi as representative of the rich and powerful and inaccessible for the poor, people began to take note," he says.

Nath, apart from terming the fight as urban versus rural, also calls it forward caste versus backward caste.

According to him the urban constituencies — Varanasi North, Varanasi South and Varanasi Cantt — are dominated by the Rajputs, Brahmins, Bhumihars, and Baniyas who have rallied behind Modi and the rural pockets with Patel (kurmi), Rajbhar, Kumhar, Yadav, and Kanhar are backing Kejriwal.

"Apart from the backward castes that make about 2.5 lakh voters, if the Muslims with over 3 lakh population decide to vote for Kejriwal he will certainly not be a pushover," said Nath.

With the fight between Modi and Kejriwal getting tougher by the day all eyes are now on the Muslims who have while giving indications of warming up to Kejriwal are yet to open their cards.

Meanwhile, the battle for Varanasi is certainly on.


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