Amitabh Shukla/PTI in Varanasi
With stakes high in eastern
Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is desperately trying to get the magical caste formula of the past, which saw it getting the lion's share of votes till 20 years ago.
In a rally in this temple city last Sunday, Congress President Sonia Gandhi invoked the name of the late Brahmin
leader Kamlapati Tripathi, who was once the chief minister of the state and also a Union minister for several years, to woo back the community it has lost in the recent years.
In an apparent bid to woo the minorities, she also referred to the plight of the weaving community (Muslims) who
have been hit hard in recent years with machines and power looms replacing artisans in large numbers.
The Congress organised a function recently in Delhi also in the memory of Tripathi, whom it has now reinvented as a tall Brahmin leader, whose name could be used politically to counter the social engineering of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party
The BSP's social engineering has witnessed the Mayawati-led party appropriate the traditional Congress vote
bank comprising Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins. It led to the BSP coming to power on its own for the first time in the 2007 assembly election.
Varanasi is a constituency which has a sizeable Brahmin votes and the Congress has pitted sitting MP Rajesh Mishra against the Bharatiya Janata Party's Murli Manohar Joshi.
In the fight between the two Brahmin leaders, the BSP's Mukhtar Ansari and the Samajwadi Party's Ajay Rai are putting up a decent fight turning the prestigious seat in a four-cornered contest.
While Mishra, in his meetings, describes Joshi as a "leader imported from Allahabad", Joshi's supporters are projecting the former Union minister as the "messiah" for the temple city who has come only to revive its lost glory.
He is also being described by his supporters as a "Brahmin and a Hindu icon" in a move to win back the influential community to the BJP fold.
Ansari, incarcerated in jail due to his alleged role in a murder, has a criminal past, but his supporters are
mobilising the weaver community (Ansaris) and the other Muslims to thwart the ambitions of the Congress, BJP and SP.
Rai, a sitting MLA, who was once in the BJP, is banking on a publicity blitzkrieg and is prominent on the local FM radio channels, promising many good things for the people of the ancient and holy town on the banks of the Ganges.
In the wake of the Ram Janambhoomi controversy, the BJP won four consecutive Lok Sabha elections from here -- 1991 1996, 1998 and 1999.
The Congress's Mishra broke the BJP's winning streak in 2004.
Promising to be an interesting contest where all tested permutations and combinations are being tried -- caste,
community, religion and local issues -- the result will determine whose call was right and touched the heart of the
million plus voters.
Image: A priest applies the traditional tikka on the forehead of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, April 6. Photograph: Reuters.
Also read: What Rajesh Mishra told rediff.com after the Varanasi blasts | India Votes 2009