As Varanasi votes, Murli Manohar Joshi on sticky wicket

Varanasi, April 15 (Inditop) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi may have shifted from his traditional Allahabad seat to the Varanasi constituency. But emerging political equations seem to be pushing him into an unpredictable four-cornered battle slated for Thursday.

Joshi is clearly facing a tough fight from the Congress party’s sitting MP Rajesh Misra, the Samajwadi Party’s Ajay Rai and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Mukhtar Ansari, who is facing murder charges.

While Ansari’s presence perhaps suits Joshi, who may be seeking the Hindu vote in the presence of a Muslim candidate, the other two candidates seem to be giving him sleepless nights.

Evidently, when Joshi opted for Varanasi, he may have been thinking of votes from the 15 percent Brahmin population besides his party’s traditional saffron vote. However, Rai’s plunge into the fray has thrown a spanner in the works.

Rai was not just a disgruntled sitting BJP legislator but also a Hindu hardliner who wields tremendous influence over a large chunk of like-minded people. His crossing over to the Samajwadi Party fold is not likely to dilute his Hindutva following, and that is worrying Joshi.

A former minister, Rai switched loyalties to the Samajwadi Party no sooner than he was denied the Lok Sabha ticket from this constituency.

Rai made it a point to forge a vertical split in the local BJP unit by raising the “outsider” bogey against Joshi, who was not prepared for such opposition from within his party ranks.

Congress MP Misra is seeking re-election on the strength of his personal qualities and abilities. A former Benaras Hindu University students union leader, Misra wrested the seat last time from BJP by 57,436 votes.

Widely known for his clean image, he is also recognised as a scholar with two books to his credit.

Last time he had won cutting across caste and religious divides. While his academic profile matches that of Joshi who for years was a professor and head of the physics department of Allahabad University, what may go against Misra is the anti-incumbency factor.

As for Ansari, even Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s testimonial at a rally here last week calling him a “messiah of the poor” has failed to alter his widely recognised image as a mafia don.

Joshi has been doing his best to project himself as “Mr. Clean”. But whether he can tackle his rival from within – Rai – will be decided Thursday.