While BJP leaders were complaining to Election Commission against the district magistrate over denial of permission for Narendra Modi's rally at the historic Beniyabagh maidan, a group of Muslims residing in the area were lamenting the poll officer's decision.
The people there had heard several leaders including Raj Narain at the same venue and were now keen to hear Modi. "Barricades are being put up so may be they (authorities) have decided to give permission to Modi… We will come to listen to him. It is a public place so why should Modi not be allowed," one of them said adding "we will not vote for him."
It was already evening but uncertainty continued to loom over whether Modi, the BJP's candidate from Varanasi, would be able to hold the rally on Thursday at Beniyabagh, located in the heart of the city.
The controversy has sharpened the battlelines in a city engulfed in the frenzy of a fervently fought battle with an infuriated BJP crying foul and planning to hold a "satyagraha" outside the Banaras Hindu University. The BJP has asked chief election commissioner VS Sampath to remove the district magistrate Pranjal Yadav, who is the electoral officer.
"Is Narendra Modi's entry banned... A PM candidate can not campaign in his own constituency," party leader Arun Jaitley asked at a press conference saying besides the rally at Beniyabagh, permission had also been denied for Modi's Ganga Pujan and meeting with intellectuals in a hotel. Instead, now Modi will land at BHU's helipad after the public meeting at Rohania near the city and then drive down to the party's election office.
Jaitley, who dashed off three letters to the election commission, accused the district magistrate of being partisan. "This is not a Banana Republic that a PM candidate because of a pliant officer cannot address a rally."
"The effort of the returning officer is to prevent Modi from campaigning in Varanasi city," Jaitley said, adding the poll official had cited security reasons.
He also refuted Pranjal's claim to television channels that permission had been given. "We have not received a single piece of paper. We were informed none of the three programmes will be allowed.... In the last letter with a heavy heart I said is it to be believed that EC is acquiescing with this officer." Jaitley accused EC of inaction.
That the BJP is all set to gain mileage out of the controversy, where Modi is pitted against AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal and Congress's Ajay Rai, is apparent. Asked if it shook the BJP's confidence, Jaitley said "it increases my confidence that a cop has to resort to extra-constitutional methods."
He said the party was told first that the rally venue had been booked by a "Khan" who wanted to put up the national flag and then told it was that there were Intelligence alerts that made the venue unsuitable
for Modi's address. Jaitley claimed there was no such IB report and also denied that the party had sought permission for another venue saying the party was not out of its mind to seek a place which could accommodate just 2,000 people.