Voting was today underway in the holy town amid tight security as people came out in large numbers to exercise their franchise in the one of the most high-profile contests featuring two of the most talked about politicians – Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal.
Polling began at 7 AM and Anant Narayan Singh, the present king of Kashi (old name of Varanasi) and Congress candidate Ajay Rai were among the first to vote at a booth in Ramnagar.
Around 16 lakh people are eligible to cast vote.
Rai came to vote wearing a badge of his election symbol 'hand' on his kurta.
When asked whether it could amount to violation of Election Code of Conduct just as in the case of Modi in Gandhinagar, Rai said he has the right to wear the symbol as a candidate and "the hand symbol was in his heart". He also that Modi was showing lotus symbol while he is only wearing it.
Long queues were seen in areas like Nadesar, Ram Nagar and Benaras Hindu University campus and Muslim dominated localities within the city and villages on the outskirts, indicating higher voting percentage then 42 per cent polling in 2009 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 authorities have around 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 and videography has been arranged for remaining close to 300 booths.
Top police officers of Uttar Pradesh have personally come 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, with the Election Commission too appointing a Special Observer.
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 dharmasalas 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," Special Election Observer Praveen Kumar told PTI.
The city witnessed a high-voltage campaign in the last few days with Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav holding impressive roadshows to woo the voters.