Politics over Muslim votes has intensified in Varanasi after Quami Ekta Dal (QED) extended its support to Congress candidate Ajay Rai. But, many in the city are wondering, will QED be able to transfer its Muslim vote bank to Congress?
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – its candidate is former Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal – and Congress are vying with each other for some 300,000 Muslim votes in Varanasi. AAP was earlier banking on the support of minority voters after QED leader and don Mukhtar Ansari withdrew his candidature from the Varanasi seat.
Ansari is contesting from the Ghosi parliamentary seat in Mau.
Local political analysts say Congress and AAP are fighting for the number two position, as BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is expected to win Varanasi by a sizeable margin. And Muslims would play a major role in deciding which part emerges second.
Ansari, who was a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate in the 2009 general elections, lost to BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi by 17,211 votes. Majority of the Muslims voted to help him bag 185,911 votes. In Ansari's absence from political arena of Varanasi, the QED wants to ensure that the party's core Muslim votes go with Congress' Rai.
But is QED's decision to support Congress a political compulsion or a well thought out strategy of the party? Despite Ansari's poll deal with Rai, eastern Uttar Pradesh know them as bitter enemies. In such a scenario, it is not clear how QED president and Mukhtar's brother Afzal Ansari would work to transfer its vote bank to the Congress.
AAP leaders are unfazed with this political development. They are sure Muslims would back Kejriwal en block to check Modi's victory. "QED had lost its political ground in Varanasi after Mukhtar Ansari withdrew. Muslims of Varanasi no longer look up to him as their leader," said AAP leader Atiq Ahmad. "As such, QED's support to the Congress candidate will have no bearing on Muslims' support to the AAP."
Political observers also feel that any attempt by the Ansaris to campaign for Rai could elicit a strong reaction from Hindus. "We are waiting for Afzal Ansari to campaign for the Congress candidate. If this happens, we will be in a better position to increase Modi's victory margin by ensuring reactionary voting from Hindus," said a senior BJP leader not willing to be quoted.
Muslims, however, cannot ignore the Ansaris altogether as many members of their community have sought financial favours from them – be it for a daughter's marriage or to meet medical expenses of an ailing member of the family. The Ansaris have hardly turned anyone down.