As political pitch gets stronger in this city of temples and weavers with the arrival of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, leaders across party lines are fearing a highly polarised scenario on religious lines ahead of Lok Sabha polls next month.
While senior leaders from BJP dismiss the impact of any anti-Modi polarisation among Muslims, who account for about 18 per cent votes here and close to 30 per cent in urban areas, local leaders from various parties including the saffron party said there was a high probability of Muslim votes being polarised towards the strongest candidate against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Local leaders from various parties including Congress, SP and BSP, also accused Kejriwal of trying to influence Muslims by projecting himself as the strongest candidate against Modi.
Soon after arriving here this morning, Kejriwal met Benares Shahar-e-Kazi Ghulam Nasir and sought his support. According to AAP leaders here, Nasir told Kejriwal that he would pray for his success.
Kejriwal also met some Balmiki Samaj leaders and visited areas populated by Dalits to seek their support. He is staying at the house of Viplav Mishra, brother of late Veerbhadra Mishra, who was mahant of Sankat Mochan Mandir, a Hanuman temple which is very popular among locals and people visiting Varanasi.
Kejriwal is likely to file his nomination on April 23, before which he may go to Amethi for a couple of days to campaign for party colleague Kumar Vishwas who is fighting against Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
When asked whether BJP was wary of any anti-Modi polarisation among Muslim voters in favour of Kejriwal, party leaders dismissed such claims, saying Modi's win was a foregone conclusion and the fight was only about margins.
BJP's Nalin Kohli, who is camping here for elections, said it was not at all concerned about polarisation and the party was fighting the elections with agenda of 'one India, great India' and the new government would work for solving the problems faced by people of this country.
However, some other local BJP leaders accepted that there were apprehensions about polarisation of votes against Modi, but the quantum would not be enough to defeat the party's prime ministerial candidate and the 'ever-growing' wave in his favour.
On the other hand, Congress candidate Ajay Rai said that it was BJP which was working towards creating a polarisation on the religious lines and the party had done similar things in last Lok Sabha elections.
Rai went on to blame BJP of conspiring to put Muslim strongman leader Mukhtar Ansari in the fray so that minority votes get divided between him and Samajwadi Party. Rai had fought last Lok Sabha elections as a SP candidate, while Ansari was BSP candidate.
Since then, Ansari and his brothers have formed Qaumi Ekta Dal and is currently an MLA, while Rai is a Congress MLA right now. Ansari had earlier said he would fight against Modi, but recently decided against contesting Lok Sabha polls and has said he does not want anti-Modi votes to get divided.
Also in the fray is SP's Kailash Chaurasia, and BSP's Vijay Prakash Jaiswal and both the parties are putting their claims on minority, Dalit and backward votes.
SP's state secretary and UP Janjatiya Lok Kala Sanskriti Sansthan Chairman Manoj Rai Dhoopchandi said that the party would get huge support from minorities, backward and extreme backward caste voters as the state government has worked hard for their development.
"We are asking for votes on the basis of development work done by our government," he said, while accusing Kejriwal and Rai of trying to usurp SP's vote bank of minorities.
He said that the people of Varanasi would not be lured by them as they now that Kejriwal was an outsider and even Rai was wrongly claiming to be a local leader as his MLA constituency was hardly within Varanasi Lok Sabha area.
"Besides, people know that Rai is an ex-BJP leader and he has changed many parties, making him unacceptable among people here," he said.
Some Muslim leaders, on the other hand said, they do not want to be very vocal against Modi and the community is rather focussing on supporting candidates who can fight corruption or those who can work for local issues.
In 2009, there was reportedly huge polarisation against Ansari in Varanasi, and Murli Manohar Joshi could sail through by a small margin. Local leaders say that Joshi could muster enough support at the last moment after some other candidates pledged their support to BJP to defeat Ansari and they fear a similar situation against Modi this time.
Usman Gani, State Incharge of Momin Conference, which had been a major participant in Gandhian Khadi movement, categorically said that Aam Aadmi Party would fulfil the dreams of clean and secular India.
Surprisingly, neither has any major party announced any Muslim candidate so far for Varanasi seat, nor has any strong minority leader announced plans to fight independently.
Gani said he is hopeful that Quami Ekta Dal would also lend its support to Kejriwal as he was the only leader to stand up to the stature of Modi.
Momin Conference in Varanasi has been supporting AAP and it has given its own office to AAP in Sigra locality for election campaign purposes.