The oldest city in the world was in a frenzy on Thursday. From early evening to nearly 9.30pm, from the BHU campus to the BJP headquarters 5km away, Narendra Modi's road-show was thronged by BJP supporters in their saffron caps. On a low key but as energetically, AAP volunteers continued their street corner meetings and padyatras, convincing doubtful voters that an upset was possible.
AAP supporters at an election campaign rally in Varanasi. (PTI Photo)
Watching the political drama quietly were the city's Muslims, carefully weighing their options.
Sceptical of the BJP's show of strength but confused about how to stop the tide, they were clear about wanting to defeat Modi but somewhat resigned to his possible win. Torn between old loyalties and new possibilities, and irritated at the constant gaze of politicians and the media on their voting behaviour, Muslim community leaders are grappling with their dilemmas. But if there is one common thread, it is their increasing support for AAP.
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Mohammad Abdullah Ansari, a respected elder in Bazar Sadanand who had once fought an assembly election on a BSP ticket, told HT that Muslims are impressed with Kejriwal for his willingness to take on Modi. Giving a glimpse into how Muslims decide to vote, he said, “Look, we cannot decide the outcome on our own. We are 3.5 lakh in a 15-lakh-strong constituency. We can judge who the best candidate positioned to defeat Modi is, depending on who has the most Hindu votes to which we can add.”
Ansari said the support of local strongman Mukhtar Ansari to Congress candidate Ajay Rai had backfired. “Mukhtar doesn't control Muslim votes to the extent thought. And Rai's own community of Bhumihars got upset with the support and have moved to the BJP.” He feels that Kejriwal now has the support of educated Hindus as well as people in rural pockets. “The decision will be taken on the final day (May 12), but 70-80% Muslims have made up their minds to go with AAP,” he says.
Traditional Congress supporters, however, say the division in the community is sharper. In Jagjivanpur, weaver Badrul Hassan says about 60% of the votes will go to Kejriwal and 20% to Rai. He is irritated when asked why Muslims are not consolidating. “Why is everyone asking only about Muslims? We are just 20% of the population. Does Hindu society vote together? Why this expectation that we will vote together? I am with the Congress.”
In Nakkighat, the mood is similar. At a paan shop, sitting with its owner Sagar Chaurasia, is Bilal who says he is impressed with Kejriwal because he is a clean man whose teams have come to the area and campaigned vigorously. Chaurasia nods. Reyazuddin, sitting nearby reiterates the sentiment. “25% votes to Congress from this area is confirmed. But the rest are with AAP,” he says. But he looks down wistfully and says, “But Modi will win.”
Back in Jagjivanpur, when asked about the implications of a Modi win, Shamshul Arifeen said, “We may not want him, but we are not scared of him either. Varanasi will remain home to all communities living in harmony. Modi or no Modi, that cannot be changed.”
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