Mafia don turned politician Mukhtar Ansari's exit from the Varanasi race has raised the hopes of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which hopes the Quami Ekta Dal MLA will lend his support to its candidate and party chief Arvind Kejriwal.
"We are certain Ansari will support Kejriwal and not the Congress candidate Ajai Rai, given the kind of tenuous relationship Ansari and Rai share," a party leader said.
Ansari is the prime accused in the 1991 murder of Rai's brother, Awdesh.
Kejriwal hinted the party was not averse to taking Ansari's support. Speaking to reporters ahead of his three-day road show in Punjab on Thursday, he said it was important that all forces came together to fight the BJP and the Congress.
"Congress and BJP have to be removed from the country to get rid of corruption. And for this, all the forces must join hands," he said.
Following Ansari's withdrawal, AAP is confident Kejriwal will emerge as a rallying point for Muslims, who constitute 3.5 lakh of the total 15 lakh population in the holy city.
"We are confident now of giving a tough fight to the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi," the party leader said.
While he maintained that the party will not seek Ansari's support for Kejriwal, he said it would not decline it either.
Following Modi's announcement of his candidature from Varanasi the Muslims have been on the lookout for the strongest candidate who could give a fight to the Gujarat chief minister.
In Kejriwal, who decided to take on Modi, they found one. At his rally in the city last month, Muslims had flocked to hear him out and applauded his each attack on Modi. However when Ansari jumped in the fray, there were fears of Muslim voted getting fragmented.
Soon there was frenetic effort by prominent Muslim clerics to persuade Ansari to withdraw from race and it paid off when Ansari agreed to contest from another constituency.
Ansari's withdrawal comes as a shot in the arm of Kejriwal who can at least hope to give a fight to the BJP candidate Narendra Modi who has overwhelming support in the constituency.
Muslims in this constituency have traditionally rallied in support of a candidate who they see as the strongest against the saffron party. With Modi with Gujarat 2002 riot taint on him, the consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of Kejriwal is all the more likely.