After a show of strength on the streets of Varanasi, Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on Thursday filed his nomination papers for one of the most keenly watched contests in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Thousands of supporters waved and cheered as Modi covered the two-km route in almost three hours from the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), where he landed in a helicopter, and the collector's office where he filed his nomination papers.
The Gujarat chief minister flew in to the temple town and attended a string of events, including paying tributes to BHU founder Madan Mohan Malviya, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Swami Vivekananad and BR Ambedkar.
The grandson of Malviya, Giridhar Malviya, was one of the proposers for Modi's candidature.
Amit Shah, BJP's Uttar Pradesh in-charge, said there was a Modi wave in UP, now after Modi has filed his nomination from Varanasi, it has become a tsunami.
Hours before filing his nomination papers Modi had praised the "glorious past" and talked about the "glorious future" of the holy city in a blog.
Modi talked about creating state-of-the-art tourist and infrastructure facilities for Varanasi, commitment to clean the Ganga, address the issues of cleanliness in the temple town and to make the weavers of Varanasi become "our pride at the world level".
"With the blessings of Lord Vishwanath and inspired by the legacy of a glorious past, we set out to create a magnificent future for Varanasi," he wrote. He also sought the support and blessings of the people of Varanasi. "Mother Ganga called me to Kashi," he said.
"Bless me so that I can restore this glorious city to its prime and so that I can bring a sea of change in the lives of people of Varanasi and Poorvanchal so that this region once again becomes the focal point of our nation’s development and our proud culture."
Tweets by Modi after the road show in Varanasi:
Thank you Varanasi. No words will describe the affection you have showered today. Truly touched pic.twitter.com/IPKGGIUJTH— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 24, 2014
My coming to Varanasi is like a child going to his Mother. I have come to this divine land on the call of Ganga Mata.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 24, 2014
I am emotionally touched & moved to see the enthusiasm& hardwork of our Karyakartas. We are very proud of you all.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 24, 2014
I thank the policemen and security forces who were there during the entire roadshow & nomination process.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 24, 2014
Modi's nomination for the seat was a tough challenge for the saffron party, which hopes to put up a spectacular show in Uttar Pradesh under his leadership.
The BJP had announced Modi would contest the Varanasi seat in UP after sitting parliamentarian Murli Manohar Joshi gave in to the pressure from top leadership. Joshi will fight from the Kanpur seat.
Modi's decision to enter the fray from the holy city, as demanded by BJP strategists, underscored anxiety on the part of the party brass to maximise the saffron party's tally from UP and Bihar — two key states accounting for 120 Lok Sabha seats that could help the BJP reach the magic figure of 272 in the House to form the next government.
In 2009 Lok Sabha election, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi had won the seat defeating gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari by a margin of 17,000 votes.
Quami Ekta Dal's Ansari, who is known to have a strong support base among Muslims, has decided not to contest against Modi from the seat "to avoid division of secular votes".
The Congress party has fielded Ajay Rai, a Varanasi local, who is an MLA from Pindra assembly constituency. Samajwadi Party candidate Kailash Chaurasiya is also a sitting MLA from nearby Mirzapur. Both Rai and Chaurasiya have already filed their nominations.
BSP's Vijay Prakash Jaisawal will contest the elections from Varanasi while CPI(M) has given ticket to veteran party worker Heera Lal Yadav. Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress has given the ticket to Indira Tiwari.
Every party has been trying hard to woo the 1.5 lakh Muslim voters the constituency has.
Polling in Varanasi would be held in the last phase of Lok Sabha elections on May 12.
After filing his nomination papers from Varanasi, Modi will fly to his other constituency of Vadodara to address a public meeting at the Polo Ground, a party official said.
This will be Modi's first rally in Vadodara after he filed his nomination papers on 9 April.
(With IANS and PTI inputs)