Caste lines blurred in Varanasi poll?
As Varanasi votes Monday, traditional caste lines seem to have blurred and loyalties changed.
With nearly 17 lakh voters as per figures of the local administration, Varanasi has a dominant Hindu population.
According to an official in the district magistrate's office, of these, there are nearly three lakh Muslims, and nearly an equal number of three lakh Brahmins.
The Brahmin vote is traditionally expected to go to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to have made a dent.
"It is not necessary that Brahmins vote for the BJP. We are tired of corruption, and the AAP has been reaching out to us," said Buddhiram Shastry, a resident of Rohaniya, a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Varanasi.
The AAP has been making its presence felt significantly in the rural areas.
Most of the locals feel the real battle is between Bharatiya Janata Party's Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal.
Bhumihars, the community of Congress's Ajay Rai, are nearly 1.5 lakh in number.
However, their votes appear to be divided, after local Muslim leader Mukhtar Ansari extended support to Rai.
Similarly, the Muslim votes appear split as well, with many deciding not to follow Ansari's call to support Congress, and choosing the AAP instead.
As one walks through the lanes of Muslim-majority Kachchibagh, the talk at shops and on streets is all about polls.
Kamal Ahmed Ansari, a weaver, said he was supporting the AAP.
"Many local weavers are supporting the AAP. They have a feeling he has better chances of winning," said Ansari.
Asked about Mukhtar Ansari's support to Rai, he said: "I was a supporter of the Quami Ekta Dal (Mukhtar Ansari's party), but now that he is supporting Rai, his 'enemy', we don't want to support him."
Mukhtar Ansari is in jail on charges of ordering the killing of BJP legislator Krishnanand Rai, who was the brother of Ajay Rai.
In 2009, both Krishnanand Rai and Mukhtar Ansari had contested the polls from Varanasi, but BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi emerged victorious.
Meanwhile, the Congress is making last-minute efforts involving local religious leaders.
"The local elders are asking people to vote for the Congress. Let us see what people decide," said Shakeel, a shop keeper in Beniyabagh locality.
"There are many supporters of the Samajwadi Party and Congress as well, but people feel the battle is between BJP and AAP, and they don't want to waste their votes," said Amit Singh, who owns a book store in Godowlia area.
Koushal Kishor Mishra, a professor of political science at the premier Banaras Hindu University, said religion was a way of life in Varanasi and politics cannot be kept apart from it.
"Religion is the centre and a way of life here, when everything is centred around religion, how can politics be away from it," he wondered.
Other major castes here include the Chaurasiyas, the traditional pan traders who are nearly 1.3 lakh in number, Mallahs, the boatmen, who number around 50,000, the Yadavs, the caste of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh, who number around one lakh, and one lakh Dalits.
"The Bhumihar votes have split, and nearly 30 percent may go to the BJP. They are also getting the Chaurasiya votes," Mishra said.
(Posted on 11-05-2014)