A Hindutva champion, a murder accused, a rebel… Varanasi has it all

March 24th, 2009 - 10:08 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Rajat Rai
Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), March 24 (IANS) With a known Hindu hardliner, a murder accused as well as an influential party rebel in the fray, the electoral battle in this Hindu pilgrim town is getting hotter by the day. Among the most prominent candidates is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, who has switched from Allahabad to Varanasi this time in search of better prospects.

But success may elude him here too - he had lost from Allahabad in 2004 - as the Samajwadi Party has pitted BJP’s rebel legislator Ajay Rai against him.

The third high-profile — and feared — candidate in Varanasi is Mukhtar Ansari, a man with a criminal past who has quit the Samajwadi Party and embraced Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

A former BJP president, Joshi may have thought that the Hindu holy town of Varanasi would accept him instantly because of his hardcore Hindutva image. But now he has to battle it out with a former party member, Rai, the sitting legislator from Kolasla, an assembly segment in the Varanasi parliamentary constituency.

This fight in turn could easily benefit the Congress MP from Varanasi, Rajesh Mishra. The constituency has 2.4 million voters and the poll will be held April 16.

“The situation of polarization of voters will occur in the constituency and Joshi will definitely win,” BJP leader Kalraj Mishra told IANS. He termed Rai’s decision to leave the party as hasty.

“He (Rai) should not have left the party merely for a parliamentary ticket. But his exit will not affect our performance in the elections,” Mishra said.

However, Rai claims he has already scripted Joshi’s defeat.

“After spoiling the Allahabad seat, where he is disliked by BJP workers, Joshi is in Varanasi to defame the party. Senior BJP leaders are promoting cronies and (selling) Lok Sabha nominations for a price,” Rai alleged.

He claimed that voters in Varanasi were angry that the BJP had fielded an outsider instead of allowing a local leader to contest.

Rai wanted to be fielded for the seat. He had created a scene in BJP veteran L.K. Advani’s rally here in October 2008, demanding that Joshi be ousted from Varanasi. At that time Advani had sought an explanation from Rai and warned him to mend his ways.

Rai remains adamant: “Joshi is a spent force.”

The BSP’s decision to field murder accused Ansari, a legislator from Mau district, has muddied the waters. Currently lodged in Ghazipur jail, the man has several criminal charges against him.

With him entering the fray, speculation is rife that voters may indeed be polarized on communal lines.

(Rajat Rai can be contacted at rajat.r@ians.in)

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