Varanasi is battle-ready and on Tuesday, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal will fire the opening shots when he addresses his first rally in the temple town after announcing plan to go up against BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi.
The mood for the day and the poll contest — expected to be bitter if not fierce — was set on Monday evening when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief raised suspicion that BJP may play dirty.
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“Is BJP planning something?” Kejriwal tweeted in reply to a tweet “Everyone suspects there will be violence by Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi” sent from one mediacrooks handle. Though the tweet was not from the BJP, the supporters of the two parties are on the edge and a possible face-off between them has many in the town, situated on the banks of the Ganga, worried.
“Due to recent clashes between AAP and BJP workers, traders, especially at Beniyabagh, are apprehensive. Even a minor incident could act as a trigger and create tension in the city,” Ifran Ansari, who sells ready-made garments, said. His shop is at Beniyabagh, the venue of the road show which is barely 500 metre from the rally spot.
The two sides had battled it out on the streets of Delhi and Lucknow when Kejriwal was briefly detained during his four-day visit to Gujarat earlier this month. The former Delhi CM has been unsparing in his criticism of Modi, questioning his claims of development and ties with industrial houses.
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Another trader, Shaheed Khan, was apprehensive too. “There is tension in the area due to APP rally. Situation could take a turn for the worse if security arrangements are not tight,” Khan said.
District magistrate Pranjal Yadav, however, said all measures were in place. “We are fully prepared. Cops will be deployed on entire route of the road show and rally venue,” Yadav said.
Varanasi’s transformation from the seat of spirituality to a VIP constituency has put a serious strain on security agencies. Adding to their headache, more than 5,000 AAP volunteers plan to storm the eastern UP town next month.
The AAP “army” is expected after April 10, when elections in Delhi and Haryana, key to the party’s prospects, are over. In the run-up to May 12, the voting day, the volunteers — led by party leaders Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Yogendra Yadav — will hold road shows and carry out door-to-door campaign.
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Varanasi’s 1.5-million-strong electorate, with a sizable Muslim presence, has chosen a BJP candidate every time since 1991, barring a Congress win in 2004.
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The police have been told to prepare a special security plan, conduct surprise checks and patrol sensitive lanes and ghats, said additional director general of police Mukul Goel. There are plans to install CCTVs, upgrade airport security and get more boots on the ground.
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“A rabble-rouser, he (Kejriwal) has a track record of staging demonstrations and the serenity of the city could be disturbed if his supporters clash with those of Modi,” an intelligence officer said.
Chief election commissioner VS Sampath said district officials have been told to punish anti-social elements trying to fuel tension.