VARANASI: Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency, will be the epicentre for the seventh and last phase of the polls in Uttar Pradesh. PM Modi will be arriving here on Saturday, as will UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice President Rahul Gandhi to campaign for what has become an increasingly tense and tough election in the absence of a visible wave for one or the other political party.

Varanasi is a major prestige point for the BJP with party president and almost the entire Cabinet along with top RSS leaders in place to campaign for all the Assembly seats; even as the Samajwadi party and Congress workers are learning to share their chapatis and run a joint campaign to wrest what has not been theirs in the city for over 30 years.

PM Modi was to hold a roadshow, according to local BJP workers who were rather crestfallen earlier this week to hear that this idea had been cancelled. As one of them said, “shobha nahin deta hai pradhan mantri” to campaign so minutely for specific seats. This was pooh-poohed by Congress workers with, “he knows the BJP is losing so does not want to associate too closely with the candidate here.”

However, latest reports suggest that the PM will be in the city to meet individual leaders, workers and others for about nine hours. This is again far less than the figure of three days that was given out by the BJP workers earlier. He will also be addressing between one to three rallies in Varanasi, although all these details are presently a closely guarded secret.

On the other hand the Alliance is now working overtime for the Saturday rally of Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. The date was discussed with the local leaders, and moved from the first February 28 schedule to now March 5. Varanasi goes to the polls on March 8, with March 6 being the last day of campaigning that BJP wants PM Modi to avail off.

The four hour Alliance roadshow will travel 12 km, cover three urban constituencies with both the leaders addressing stand alone meetings as well in Varanasi and adjoining Assembly constituencies. PM Modi is expected to arrive in Varanasi as well on Saturday and unconfirmed indications are he will stay the night for the rally, or rallies the next day.

Ahead of all visits, the political parties have now put up hoardings and cut outs of their leaders. Till a couple of days ago there was not a single poster or banner in the rural areas, and very few in the urban constituencies of Varanasi. The candidates have been focusing on house to house campaigns, with the RSS and the BJP leaders out in full strength. The Alliance has left it largely to the candidates to whip up support, although the SP-Congress workers have for once joined forces and claim to be working well together.

In an atmosphere where the voter has turned silent, all parties are uneasy. More so the BJP as a defeat here will be devastating. The Alliance, as an old socialist SP leader said, can only gain. However its rural seat Sewapuri seems to be in some danger with three time MLA facing some threat from the combined Apna Dal-BJP candidate from this constituency. However, there has been a consolidation of votes behind the Alliance, with the BJP now using the communal card to try and polarise the votes in the urban seats at least in its favour. So far this has not happened.

There is visible excitement now in Varanasi with the top visits on the weekend. As a Congress worker who is being invited for several of the BJP meetings with different leaders said, “nothing is clear, it will become clearer after the Alliance roadshow on Saturday.” Meanwhile the Alliance has launched a “chalo kashi” campaign with videos urging the youth to go to Varanasi and ensure the victory of the SP-Congress. Several students of Banaras Hindu University are also working now for the Alliance.