Modi, Akhilesh-Rahul raise last rallying cries
Since time immemorial, Varanasi has been known as the place to attain moksha (nirvana) — for an enlightening and enriching transition from the worldly life to the heavenly abode. It is renowned for the Baba Vishwanath temple, the Ganges, its ghats, the famed Banarasi sari, paan, poori-sabji-jalebi and for its rich socio-cultural and literary traditions.
But things have changed since the summer of 2014. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to make his parliamentary debut from Varanasi, this ancient city's importance and its connect has now attained what may be termed as 'political' nirvana.
Saturday shall always be seen as a case study by leaders and students of politics, for all the key political players in the UP elections — Modi, Mayawati and the Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav combine — converged in Varanasi to seek blessings in the biggest Hindi heartland state.
As Mau, Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Deoria, Azamgarh and Ballia districts went to polls on Saturday in the sixth phase, road shows of the political heavyweights came up. Around 1.72 crore voters, including 94.60 lakh men and 77.84 lakh women, cast their votes in this round to decide the fate of 635 candidates. An estimated 57.03 percent voters cast their ballots on Saturday.
"The polling was approximately 57.03 percent and passed off by and large peacefully," office of UP Chief Electoral Officer said here. The polling percentage on these 49 seats was 55.04 in the 2012 state Assembly polls. The poll percentage in the first phase of the current state polls was 64.22. It was 65.16 in the second phase, 61.16 in the third phase, 60.37 in the fourth phase and 57.37 in the fifth phase.
Besides SP patron Mulayam Singh Yadav's Azamgarh being in focus, Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency of firebrand BJP leader Yogi Adityanath, and Mau, where jailed gangster-turned-MLA Mukhtar Ansari is in fray, also figured in the penultimate phase of polling. This phase also covered some districts bordering Nepal.
Prominent candidates in this phase include BSP turncoat Swami Prasad Maurya from Padrauna (Kushinagar), former BJP state president Surya Pratap Shahi from Pathardeva (Deoria), Shyam Bahadur Yadav (SP), son of former Governor Ram Naresh Yadav from Fulpur Pawai (Azamgarh), SP turncoats Ambika Chowdhury and Narad Rai, who are contesting on BSP ticket from Fefna (Ballia) and Ballia Sadar.
Amid chants of 'Jai Modi', 'Har Har Modi Ghar Ghar Modi' and 'BJP zindabad', the Prime Minister launched his campaign in Varanasi, his Parliamentary constituency with an impressive roadshow criss-crossing the temple city. He kick-started the roadshow from BHU gate and after crossing Assi and Sonarpura, the first phase ended at Kashi Vishwanath temple where the Prime Minister worshipped for about an hour. At BHU gate, people from their balconies and terrace showered flowers on the Prime Minister and their local MP, who was seen standing with folded hands and waving out to the crowd atop an SUV.
The PM slammed the Opposition Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) for "questioning the country's army and the surgical strikes" and called the SP "corrupt and good-for-nothing" and a party that has "scant regard for the safety of women."
Addressing a campaign rally in Jaunpur, he criticised UP's Akhilesh Yadav government for paying scant attention to the safety of women. To prove his point he referred to a former SP minister Gayatri Prajapati who's accused of rape and has gone into hiding. After paying obeisance at the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the PM's cavalcade moved towards Chowk before the rally's conclusion at Kal Bhairva temple.
Interestingly, it may be noted that seven-time MLA, the 77-year-old Shyamdev Roy Chaudhari, an extremely popular figure in Varanasi who has been denied a ticket, escorted the Prime Minister inside the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
On the other hand, Samajwadi Party president and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is seeking a second successive term in office after stitching an alliance with Congress, in wilderness in the state for a long time, also led a roadshow with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi through the city, but not before he had paid a visit to the 'Kashi Vishwanath' temple of Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of Varanasi. Amid chanting of 'shlokas', Akhilesh, sporting the red Samajwadi Party cap, was seen kneeling at the temple and seeking the blessings of the priests.
BSP chief Mayawati, seeking a fifth term as CM, did not visit Varanasi but held an election rally at Rohaniya, about 20 km from here, where she claimed the people at Modi's road show were "mere spectators" brought from neighbouring states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.