Crime & communalism: A holy city awaits its fate

Kajari Bhattacharya

VARANASI, March 19 : Irony rules in the holy city of Varanasi as election bugles ring through it’s narrow lanes. In this city once known all over the country for excellence in education, cultural richness and exquisite Benarasi craft, there’s jailed mafia don Mukhtar Ansari on one side and former BJP man, Mr Ajay Rai (Samajwadi Party candidate) who’s baying for his blood, on the other. Fear reigns in the hearts of Kashi residents as the election nears. Which way lies peace?

“All the officials who have recently been posted here by the Mayawati government are going to look the other way if Ansari employs his goons during election time,” alleged Mr Rai, MLA from Kulosla, Varanasi, who left the BJP fold less than a week back because of the BJP’s reluctance to give him a Lok Sabha ticket from either Varanasi or nearby Chandauli.

While Mr Rai is contesting on an SP ticket, his arch rival Mukhtar Ansari recently left the SP to join UP chief minister Miss Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and is the BSP candidate from Varanasi.

Mr Rai is also the only person who stood at the witness stand in the trial of Ansari for the murder of Avdesh Rai, a BJP leader and elder brother of Mr Rai who was allegedly killed by the mafia don.

Mr Rai says it’s not his anger with the BJP leadership that made him leave that party and join the SP. “It’s not a matter of tickets.

After the BJP leadership decided to field Mr Murli Manohar Joshi from Varanasi instead of me, I supported his candidature. But later, when they told me I would be fielded from Chandauli instead, Mr Joshi stopped them from issuing the ticket because according to him I had rebelled against him in Varanasi.

I was hurt and decided to join the SP because that’s the only way I can stop this city of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb from being ruined by Mukhtar Ansari,” a visibly agitated Mr Rai told The Statesman in an exclusive interview.

Once a seat the BJP used to win from regularly, Varanasi went to the Congress’ Mr Rajesh Mishra in 2004.

According to BJP workers who have left the party fold after the exit of Mr Rai, he is a strong candidate who, despite his going over to the SP, will command Bumihaar (Mr Rai’s caste) and pro-BJP votes. According to them, Mr Joshi, former Union HRD minister, is an “outsider”.

Youth-ruled eastern UP still hasn’t forgiven Mr Joshi for not allowing student unions in its varsities. “We begged him for this and he said no.

Well, we’re not going to campaign for him this time either,” said a BJP worker who has gone over to the Rai camp. But the question remains, can Mr Rai, once known to be close to mafia don Brijesh Singh (a traditional rival of of the Ansari brothers), bring peace to Varanasi?

In a recent communal flare-up in Bajardiha, on the outskirts of the city, in which two youths were killed in police firing, it was the Congress’ sitting MP Mr Rajesh Misra who won the hearts of frightened Muslims in the area when he was allegedly roughed by policemen when he tried to intervene.

But in a city ridden with fissures along caste and religion lines, the verdict of its candidates and the fate of the holy city remain clouded over.