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In final round, big guns and ABC of campaign

Jaunpur, gateway to eastern Uttar Pradesh, seems as taken up with Narendra Modi as Sultanpur and Pratapgarh in neighbouring Avadh.

Lalganj, just over 100km east of Jaunpur, too has nice things to say about him but its compliments are tempered with reason and caste and personal loyalties.

Midway between Jaunpur and Lalganj rests Varanasi, which will put to test Modi’s campaign. Some other big leaders too have a stake in this election’s last phase tomorrow, when the 18 seats in the so-called Poorvanchal area will vote.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal has been brave enough to take Modi on in Varanasi, conducting a campaign that has the BJP worried and being hailed by Varanasi’s liberals as a potential long-term replacement for the Congress.

“I’m stunned by the AAP’s methodical approach. Their volunteers went door to door in the blistering heat, telling people why Kejriwal was a more honourable choice than Modi,” a BJP youth leader confessed.

“Our workers sat in AC rooms, waiting on the leaders. They woke up at the last minute when they realised the AAP had taken the lead in personal connectivity and began calling on the voters.”

The AAP strategy is based on a classification of the voters into A, B and C: A for Apne (ours), B for begaane (not ours) and C for confused. The party has worked assiduously on the C category.

Mulayam Singh Yadav is fighting his second election from Azamgarh, trying to regroup a frayed Yadav base and pull the Muslims back to the Samajwadi Party after losing a part of their vote in swathes of western and central Uttar Pradesh.

A foray into eastern Uttar Pradesh revealed the BJP had largely recovered its upper caste votes, persuading even Jaunpur’s sizeable population of Brahmins to line up behind its Thakur candidate, K.P. Singh, despite a long caste rivalry. It seems to be drawing support from the backward castes as well.

At Jaunpur’s Sighawal village, Mahagu Ram, a backward caste Nishad, said: “We are disgusted with the Congress, Samajwadi and the BSP. Modi has promised to burnish the country like Gujarat; let’s give him a chance.”

Almost every village has migrants to Gujarat. Those like Balkishan Tiwari of Singramau, who spent five years driving an auto-rickshaw in Surat, have fed others with stories of uninterrupted power supply, good roads and a marked absence of crime.

Even Lalganj, a Left-Socialist borough that elected the BSP in the last three Lok Sabha elections, favours the BJP although the “Modi factor” isn’t key there.

R.N. Rai, tyre dealer and Samajwadi worker, candidly said: “I’m fed up with the BSP’s sitting MP; I’m fed up with our candidate (Bechehi Saroj).”

Saroj, an MLA, did “nothing”, said Rai. “This time the BJP has put up a fresh face (Neelam Sonkar), so why not give her a chance? Modi’s not a yardstick for me because I am looking at local problems.”

Wherever there was a viable non-BJP option, Muslims rooted for it. If it was Kejriwal in Varanasi, in Lalganj it was the Samajwadis.

“The Samajwadi workers are helpful; those in the BSP humiliate Muslims when Mayawati is in power,” said Habibur Rehman Qasmi, a teacher at the Jamia Faise-Ulm in Deogaon.

Many other Muslims, though, felt the Samajwadis hadn’t acquitted themselves honourably through the Muzaffarnagar riots.