Brisk voting is reported on Wednesday in Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the first two hours in the seventh and final phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh. A large number of women and senior citizens queued up outside the polling stations to cast their votes. Aware that it was International Women’s Day on the day of polling, most women told the waiting media outside the polling booths that they were voting to ensure safety and security for women and girls. Professors and members from the teaching fraternity turned up in large numbers to cast their votes in the early hours in the Benaras Hindu University (BHU). Ajay Rai, the Congress candidate from Pindra, also cast his vote along with his wife. He first performed puja at a temple before heading for the polling station.
Rai had unsuccessfully challenged Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Varanasi has eight seats and there is a close contest on all the seats.
In the outgoing state assembly, the Bharatiya Janata Party has three seats, Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party have two each and the Congress has one.
Modi camped for three days in the temple town to canvass support for the BJP candidates.
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BJP insiders feel the going is tough for them, specially due to some internal rebellion in the party.
Other than a strong intellectual base in the city, the constituencies in Varanasi are also deeply divided on caste lines.
Varanasi has around 3.25 lakh Vaishya voters, 2.50 lakh Brahmin voters, 1.25 lakh Bhumihars, one lakh Rajputs, two lakh from the powerful Patel community, three lakh Muslims, 1.50 lakh Yadav’s and 80,000 Dalits.
Based on a strong Muslim-Yadav voter base, the Congress-SP alliance is claiming that it will sweep the polls in the VVIP constituency, while the BJP is banking on the large population of Brahmins, Patels and Rajputs.
The party’s traditional voters, many fear, could have been dented by the demonetisation. The saffron camp, however, is banking on the Modi charisma heavily.