At a tea shop in Hasanpura in Varanasi, Shahid Alam, Mumtaz Ahmad and Mehadi Hasan -- all weavers of Banarasi sarees – were discussing the previous day’s speech of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, agreeing eagerly that Narendra Modi would not have it as easy as he expected it to be.
With an AAP pamphlet in his hands, explaining why Kejriwal was fighting the BJP’s PM candidate from Varanasi, Mumtaz said, “If we all unite, Kejriwal will put up a tough fight.” But Shahid chipped in with a dry smile: “Only if we unite.”
The Muslims of Varanasi – about 3.5 lakh – have always voted for the strongest candidates against the BJP. In 2009, they voted for BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari, who lost by only 17,000 votes. This time, Ansari has announced his candidature, but the Muslims are warming up to Kejriwal. “Yes, there is immense curiosity about Kejriwal,” admitted Maulana Abdul Batin Nomani, the mufti of Varanasi. Kejriwal visited the Mufti on the day he was to hold the rally to seek his blessings.
The Maulana said the Muslims should back a secular candidate, as “the fight is between communal and secular forces”. Admitting Ansari’s entry into the fray could divide the Muslims, he, however, said, “Muslims understand Modi’s victory may not rake up the mandir-masjid issue, but communal tension could be manufactured through other means.”
And Varanasi cannot afford that; it’s bad for business. For, the two communities work together in the saree business, facing stiff competition from Gujarati sarees produced in assembly lines.