With the Congress fielding five-time MLA Ajay Rai against BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and AAP chief Arvind Kejrwal for the Lok Sabha election in Varanasi, AAP has been compelled to review its strategy in this key constituency.
Kejriwal got an overwhelming response from Muslims during his rally and road show here last month and AAP was relying heavily on their votes to challenge Modi. But Rai’s entry has changed the scenario in a big way as he has a strong base among Muslims and Bhumihars in Varanasi.
Besides, alleged mafia don Mukhtar Ansari of the Quami Ekta Dal has withdrawn from the Varanasi contest and is yet to decide whom to support in this constituency.
Now uncertain of Muslim support, AAP will focus on the rural parts of the city. Senior party leaders here have proposed two chaupals daily by Kejriwal in the rural areas, where the AAP chief will discuss the problems of farmers and marginalised sections of society.
Targeting rural constituents, Kejriwal will also hold two public meetings in prominent markets in Varanasi’s rural areas.
The Varanasi unit of AAP has apprised senior party leaders of Rai’s clout in the region.
“Before Ajay Rai’s announcement, Muslims here had no option except Kejriwal, considering that the SP candidate is weak. But the situation has changed altogether after Rai’s entry into the electoral battle as the Congress candidate,” said a senior AAP leader, who didn’t want to be named.
The majority of Muslim voters, numbering about 3 lakh and forming 19% of Varanasi’s electorate of 16 lakh, see Rai as the only candidate who can challenge Modi.
Abdul Batin Nomani, Mufti -e-Banaras, whose word carries considerable weight in the Muslim community here, said, “A meeting will be convened very soon to ensure that Muslims vote en bloc against Narendra Modi. Earlier, we had only one option, Arvind Kejriwal. But now we have Ajay Rai as another option.”
Meanwhile, Ansari’s decision to pull out of the contest in Varanasi comes in the backdrop of the perception among Muslims that the Mau-based don had entered into some sort of ‘arrangement’ with the BJP to divide the Muslim votes in Varanasi.
A large section of Muslims here did not want Ansari to contest from here so that the community’s votes could go en bloc to the Congress or Kejriwal.