An impressive 35 per cent voters exercised their franchise till 1pm in this high-profile constituency where BJP's Narendra Modi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal are in the fray even as Congress nominee Ajay Rai landed in trouble after he went to vote wearing his election symbol on his kurta.
35.3% polling was reported till 1 PM. Higher polling was reported from rural areas while voting in urban areas were relatively low, a senior election official said. Braving over 40 degree Celsius temperature, people came in large numbers in areas like Nadesar, Ram Nagar and Benaras Hindu University campus as well in Muslim dominated localities within the city, indicating that voting percentage will be much higher then 42 % polling in 2009 polls.
The polling began at 7 AM amid tight security and Anant Narayan Singh, the present king of Kashi (old name of Varanasi) and Rai were among the early voters. Around 16 lakh people are eligible to vote out of which around 3 lakh belong to Muslim community. Returning Officer Pranjal Yadav said no untoward incident has been reported so far from any area and voting has been largely peaceful. Snag in electronic voting machine was reported in some booths early in the morning but they were replaced immediately by the election officials.
Voters at some booths also complained about their names not being on the voter lists. Early in the morning, Rai came along with his family members to cast his vote in Ramakant Nagar of Chetganj area, while wearing a badge of Congress election symbol 'hand' on his kurta. BJP and AAP protested Rai's action. Hours later, Special Election Observer Praveen Kumar sent a report to the Election Commission which asked the authorities here to file an FIR against Rai for flashing of election symbol at the booth. Kumar said Rai violated section 130 of the Representation of Peoples Act.
Defending his action, Rai claimed that the case against Narendra Modi cannot be compared with his action as the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate had shown his lotus symbol after casting vote in Gandhi Nagar. On April 30, BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate had courted trouble after he flashed his party's symbol lotus while taking a 'selfie', and made a speech after casting his vote in Gandhinagar in Gujarat. The authorities have deployed around 45,000 security personnel to ensure free and fair polls in the city. Over 1,200 booths have been put under surveillance through CCTV cameras videography has been arranged for remaining close to 300 booths.
Top police officers of Uttar Pradesh have come down to the city to assess the security situation and make foolproof arrangements for what is being dubbed as the blockbuster battle of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
In a tweet, Modi urged voters in all the 41 constituencies, which went to polls in the final phase of voting, to come in large numbers and vote. "My special request to the youth, go out and vote and take your families and friends to the polling votes," he said in another tweet.
The police conducted raids and precautionary checks in various areas in the last two days besides keeping a strong vigil in localities identified as "sensitive". There have been searches by police at hotels, guest houses and dharamshalas to flush out "outsiders" who are not from Varanasi and were involved in campaigning. "We have made elaborate arrangement for ensuring free and fair polls," the Special Election Observer told PTI. Speaking to reporters, Kejriwal declared that his is a direct fight with Modi and said Congress' Rai is not a challenger. Rai, however, dismissed these claims and said the voters of Varanasi will elect him as he is the only "son of the soil" in the contest.
"How is it a triangular contest? Ajay Rai is nowhere. It is a direct contest with Narendra Modi ji. The situation has been changing in the last three days. Everyone is saying Narendra Modi ji will lose," Kejriwal said.