At the end of an electrifying poll campaign, just a little more than one of every two of the 16 lakh voters in Varanasi Parliamentary constituency came out to cast their franchise on Monday, the ninth and final phase of voting in the 2014 general election. Turnout, according to the poll panel, was 55.34 per cent.
But while the run up to the voting was every bit as eventful as the sheer number of candidates in the fray, polling day itself passed off quietly. Much to the relief of the Election Commission and the local administration, who, in their concern for the law and order situation, had spent many a sleepless nights. As many as 30 companies of Central Para Military Forces (CPMF) had been deployed in the holy city in addition to the state police and Provincial Armed Constabulary. But officials were so worried that they called in 15 more companies of CPMF 48 hours before the polling, just in case things went out of hand.
The administration was taking no chances, considering the VIP nature of the constituency — this is BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi's second seat. Standing against Modi is AAP's Arvind Kejriwal, Congress' Ajay Rai and dozens of other candidates.
A pall of silence had enveloped Varanasi since early on Monday. It was as if everyone had decided what to do at the polling booth. The choices were clear, the decisions had been made. The one question that Kashi seemed to be asking, but to which there were no clear answers, was: which way did the Muslim votes go?
But at the end of the final round of voting on Monday, the saffron brigade appeared to have put an authoritative stamp of victory on this state, which, with 80 seats, virtually holds the key to unlock the doors of government formation in New Delhi.
From all available indicators, it became clear on Monday that Modi's whirlwind of rallies crisscrossing the state over the past two months will soon pay off. BJP insiders say they have half of UP's seats (i.e. 40) in their kitty. "Our counting in UP begins from 41," said BJP spokesman Vijay Pathak.
Such confidence might not be misplaced. Modi devoted most of his time to UP, himself taking on a second seat — Varanasi, the epicenter of east UP. He addressed the maximum number of rallies, 53, in UP.
Besides, his focus on development moved the electoral discourse away from caste-based calculations, virtually alienating the votebanks of his rivals, BSP and SP. As a result, the BJP got a large chunk of Dalit votes, which were always committed to the BSP, as also OBCs, large swathes of which blindly followed Mulayam Singh Yadav.
For the BJP, things have come a full circle. The victory march it started in west UP in the first two phases of the election ended with equal fanfare in the east in the last two phases. East UP accounts for the largest chunk of seats (33) in any region of the state, and a good showing here will considerably boost the BJP's overall tally in UP. Significantly, the BJP had won only three of these 33 seats in 2009.
While the Muzaffarnagar riots crystallised the communal polarisation in west UP in favour of the BJP, in the east, BJP leaders say, there were two factors which worked for them: Yogi and Modi.
The slogan, "Yogi Modi kamal nishaan, maang raha hai Hindustan" spread like wildfire throughout eastern UP. "This is one of the most backward areas in the entire country, lagging far behind in all social indicators. In Modi's talk of development and Gujarat model, people here saw hope," said political analyst Pradeep Kapoor.