The BJP has no doubt that its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi contesting from Varanasi will win, for two reasons.
First, Modi is a sure winner. Second, Varanasi has been a BJP bastion except in 2004 when Rajesh Mishra of Congress won the seat.
Three of the five assembly seats in urban Varanasi belong to the BJP, as do the municipal corporation and the mayoral office. But the party is not complacent. It is deploying its volunteers as though it is fighting a full-fledged battle and the opponents are formidable.
So, what is the plan that the BJP wants to follow for the May 12 voting in the constituency that has suddenly become famous across the country? Varanasi has been famous for everything except as a parliamentary constituency. Modi contesting from Varanasi has turned it into a political hotspot.
Modi's election office on Sighra Road is a multi-storeyed new building that has now been thrown open to party volunteers who will man the poll machinery of the candidate. The lift has just been installed to reach the third floor, computers are being fixed. Meanwhile, enthusiastic workers are scattered in the spacious halls and the footwear are piled high in the porch.
Congress functionaries in a sprawling hall and sitting on the traditional white sheets on the floor mockingly point to the Modi election office and cite it as an example of the huge sums of money that the BJP is spending in this election.
What is the plan that is being put in place for the next two weeks leading up to the voting day? There will be four big election meetings in each of the five assembly constituencies, taking the total to 20. It is not yet decided which big leaders will campaign for the party's PM candidate, but it is being suggested that the party's bigwigs will be there. But there is a certain indifference to the presence of senior leaders. They will of course join the campaign but it will not be necessary.
What is the number of people directly involved in the Modi election?
Sudhir Mishra, BJP general secretary in Varanasi, says that there are 1,650 booths in the constituency and 20 people have been placed at each of these booths. That adds up to 32,000 people.
Is Amit Shah, the party in-charge in Uttar Pradesh, playing a special role in Varanasi? There is no need, answers Mishra. He says Varanasi is a BJP bastion and there is no need for any special attention and he implies that Shah is not involved in the electioneering here. He also dismisses a question about the caste factor that will influence the election outcome.
He parries the question on whether the BJP is trying to reach out to the substantial Muslim vote, or is it adopting the hard line stance that it does not pay to woo Muslims because they will not vote for the party any way. Mishra points out that the Muslim votes play a crucial role in deciding who will be in the second position. He reminds that Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) Mukhtar Ansari jumped to the second position and the Congress candidate moved down to the fifth because Muslim votes went to Ansari. He thinks that this time round too the question whether Congress'Ajay Rai or Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal will occupy the second slot will depend on who the Muslims choose to vote for.
Shatarudra Prasad, former Samajwadi Party (SP) member and party spokesman for SP candidate Kailash Chaurasia, says his party is not fighting this election and in this city in terms of Hindu vote or the Muslim vote because SP's socialist ideals spelled out by Ram Manohar Lohia, which is concerned with social justice and not with caste and religion. Prasad blames BJP for turning the election into a Hindu-Muslim issue.
Congress' Varanasi spokesman Munajir Husain Manjoor dismisses the SP and BSP presence out of hand and says that in Varanasi the electoral duel is between the Congress and the BJP. Manjoor and his colleagues claim that there are 50,000 BJP volunteers from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and other places who are now in the city. "Check the names of all those booked in Assi Ghat guest houses, and you will find a majority of them are from Gujarat," says an agitated Congress worker.
Congress is aware that it faces an uphill task, and the weak argument they offer is that Ajay Rai will be a resident member of parliament (MP) who will address the city's problems unlike high-flying Modi who will have no time for the city. To prove their point, a Congress worker says, "He (Modi) did not meet any of the party volunteers the day he came to file his nomination papers. If he is not going to meet his own party workers, how can he be expected to meet the people here?"
The tone of the Congress workers says it. They are diffident, they are desperate, they are angry. Manjoor says there will be a Rahul Gandhi roadshow. They are trying to rope in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sonia Gandhi to campaign here as well, but they confess that it is uncertain that Priyanka and Sonia will come.