In Varanasi, Muslims keep their candidate choice under wraps

In Varanasi, Muslims keep their candidate choice under wraps

Over three lakh Muslim voters, who could be the deciding factor in this Lok Sabha constituency where BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is in the fray, suddenly find themselves in focus as campaigning picks up momentum in this temple town.

Incidentally, not only are the “secular” parties vying for their support, but even the saffron party is keeping a close watch on them as it knows well that any kind of polarisation would make life difficult for Modi.

However, these voters are keeping everyone guessing about their preference, which they would take a call on a day or two before polling on May 12.

While the heat keeps them confined to their homes and shops during the day, come evening and Muslim localities such as Madanpur, Nai Sadak, Reodi Talab and Lallapura, among others, are packed to capacity.

Ask them about their choice, and they, especially the senior lot, withdraw into their shells, trying to evade direct answers. Some youngsters, however, openly flaunt their preference and can be seen sporting Aam Aadmi Party caps. But the older voters caution that this should not be seen as their final decision.

“Barring the BJP, every party has approached us for support and we never refuse anyone,” said 60-year-old Sarfuddin, a resident of Lallapura.

Even before he could complete his sentence, BSP nominee Vijay Jaiswal approached him with folded hands, saying, “I need your blessings.” And Sarfuddin replied with a smile, “It is always with you.”

However, reports of a ‘Modi wave’ in Varanasi have angered the Muslims here. “Media bik gaya hai. Aap log bhi biken hain kya? (The media is sold out. Have you also been bought?),” a visibly irritated Aftab Ahmed, who owns a garment shop at Nai Sadak, asked on being approached.

Ahmed believes that over half the crowd that gathered for Modi’s nomination was “brought from outside”. “We will take a decision on the penultimate day. Right now, we are only assessing who is in a better position to challenge Modi,” he concluded.

Mohammed Shaeer, another resident, concurred saying, “We have not yet decided whom to support. We will wait and watch for a few more days.” Going further saying it is not like they have too much of a choice, he added, “We will have to choose between Ajai Rai (Congress) and Arvind Kejriwal (AAP).”

But they are well aware that their votes will be divided. “There is no tactical voting, and our votes will be divided. It only depends on who gets the lion’s share,” said Mohammed Nasir, a resident of Reodi Talab locality, adding that ‘fatwas’ (religious decrees) issued by clerics do not have much of an impact on voting. The Congress, BSP, Samajwadi Party and AAP have been trying hard to woo Muslim voters, but it remains to be seen which party ultimately gets their support.

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