The battle for Varanasi has begun with AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal filing his elections papers Wednesday, a day before BJP’s PM nominee Narendra Modi makes official his entry into the contest after a roadshow, his first outside Gujarat.
Crowded with temples, its narrow lanes crammed with devotees and foreigners, the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, where devout go in search of salvation, was packed again Wednesday as broom-wielding Aam Aadmi Party supporters cheered on Kejriwal.
“I am a fakir... I have just Rs. 500 in my pocket. I will run a campaign on your money. You decide what you want,” the AAP leader said.
“Do you want a democracy of neighbourhoods, streets and villages or a helicopter democracy?” he said in a jibe at Modi, who has held rallies across India, clocking thousands of air miles.
Kejriwal, who has been camping in the city for almost two weeks now, has on many occasions questioned the poll-spend of Modi, who barring once has not attacked the former Delhi CM directly.
Addressing a rally in Jammu on March 26, Modi mocked Kejriwal as AK49 — an apparent reference to his 49-day stint in Delhi.
On Thursday, when the Gujarat strongman, fighting his first Lok Sabha election, arrives in the city, some fireworks can be expected.
Before filing his papers, Modi, who is also contesting from Vadodara in his home state, will hold a 2.5-km long roadshow. He would move in an open rath, a Tata 407 vehicle likely, through congested lanes with local BJP leaders helping the police in regulating the crowd, security sources said. A long meeting was held to discuss security arrangements for Modi, who has Z+ security, the highest category.
“Organisers have told the local administration that 10,000 will participate in the roadshow, but it is very likely that the figure will be much higher,” a senior home ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The BJP is expecting more than 100,000 people, with many supporters expected from other parts of the country.
Modi will give temples a miss, but will garland the statues of Madan Mohan Malviya, BR Ambedkar, Sardar Patel and Swami Vivekananda in different parts of the city that votes on May 12.
The party, said insiders, had specifically requested locals who hail from various parts of India to come in their traditional attire to present a “mini-India”.
Around 1,000 prominent people from the Muslim community have also been invited. The Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb that the city stakes claims to is a euphemism for the mutually participatory co-existence of Hindu and Muslim cultures and late Shennai mastero Bismillah Khan was arguably its biggest proponent.
“Some leaders in the party fear Modi’s presence in Varanasi, which has close to 200,000 Muslim voters, may polarise voters along religious line to Kejriwal’s advantage,” a BJP leader in Delhi said. “Though a victory is not in doubt, we want Modi’s victory margin here to be bigger than Vadodra.” He and others will have to wait for May 16, when votes will be counted.
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