M A I N   N E W S

Stage set for last leg; all eyes on Varanasi seat
Campaigning ends * Voting for 41 Lok Sabha seats on Monday
Tribune News Service & Agencies

New Delhi/Varanasi
Over a month into the election exercise, the Indian democracy’s juggernaut today signaled the final push to the finale: the rhetorical campaigning came to an end at 6pm, two days before the ninth phase. Over to May 12, when the world’s largest exercise will shed its accompanying ennui and redefine its meaning in 41 seats – six in Bihar, 18 in Uttar Pradesh and 17 in West Bengal. And on May 16, expect to know what it all has boiled down to.

Polling has been by and large peaceful in the previous eight phases barring incidents of Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The country registered a record turnout of voters, surpassing the previous record in 1984, as 66.27 per cent voting was reported in 502 Lok Sabha seats where polling has been conducted in eight phases that began on April 7. The 2009 elections recorded a 57.94 per cent turnout.

The ninth phase will witness mother of all contests in Varanasi involving BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, five-time UP MLA Ajay Rai of Congress and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. Powered by the support Rahul Gandhi’s Varanasi road show received today, an upbeat Congress exuded confidence of being firmly in the race for government formation post-16th General elections and trashed BJP’s “Mission 272” as a figment of their imagination. “BJP’s Mission 272 lies in the realm of Mungeri Lal’s imagination,” Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

The party’s newfound hopes have roots in two developments over the past two days – firm rejection of support to the BJP-led NDA by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and BSP chief Mayawati.

Second, the party was exuberant about crowds that filled Varanasi roads today in display of support for Rahul. The Congress flaunted the fact that late Ustad Bismillah Khan’s relative played the shehnai for the party vice president’s campaign today, though a similar favour was offered by Khan’s kin to BJP leaders on Friday when they played at a gathering of businessmen at a Varanasi- based hotel.

But symbolically, the Congress felt such support for Rahul said a lot to the Muslims of Varanasi and would help to wean them away from AAP which they seem to support openly in the high-profile fight.

“BJP’s frustration is manifesting in the attacks on the Election Commission and comparisons to why Rahul Gandhi was allowed to campaign in Beniyabagh in Varanasi while Modi’s rally at the same place was disallowed. BJP is comparing apples and orange. They don’t even understand that the threat perception to Modi is not the same as that to Rahul,” Singhvi said.





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