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BJP leaders hit out at Election Commission over Varanasi row

International media descends at Varanasi for Modi vs Kejriwal battle
VARANASI: As the election juggernaut rolls on, the international media has descended in large numbers on this temple town to cover the most high-profile battle involving Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal, both of whom figure in a recent Time magazine list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

For many in the foreign media, the fight between AAP leader Kejriwal and BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Modi is a battle of “ideas” which has more resonance for the global audience than any other constituency, including Amethi and Rae Bareli.

South Asia Bureau chief of AFP, Chris Otton, said the Varanasi contest was the “most fascinating” of this Lok Sabha elections for the foreign media as it features the two most talked-about Indian politicians of their time.

“It’s not often that you have two candidates who have just been chosen by Time magazine in their list of the world’s 100 most influential people slugging it out for the same seat,” said Otton, who has been covering high-pitch campaigning here for past few days.

Kejriwal was ahead of Modi in the Time magazine’s readers’ poll two weeks back of the most influential people in the world.

Otton said though there was a “dip” in foreign interest in the Indian elections due to “length of the whole process”, the interest has now gathered momentum ahead of the “grand finale” in Varanasi.

Nilanjana Bhowmick, Time magazine’s South Asia correspondent, thinks the fight here has symbolised the “sentient centre” of the Indian elections.

“On one hand there is the formidable Modi, whose win most thought was pretty much assured, whom a neophyte like Kejriwal has dared to take on. It’s a political battle no doubt, but it is a battle of ideas too, and a pointer to the future trajectory of India,” she said.

Though Congress has fielded Ajay Rai, a Varanasi local and the MLA from Pindra assembly constituency, most of the foreign correspondents say the main fight will be between Modi and Kejriwal who have been running a high-pitched campaign for the May 12 election.

Describing Modi as the “greatest showman” in Indian politics, Bhowmick said he knows how to woo people.

“Modi, of course, has a huge fan following. He is an articulate man, an astute politician and a great rabble rouser. He knows how to reach out to people with his ideas,” she said.

Commenting on Modi’s roadshow of April 24, Bhowmick said one wouldn’t have expected “any less” from the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee.

The Independent’s Asia correspondent, Andrew Buncombe, felt the international media has been giving a lot of attention to the “story” because Modi has decided to contest from Varanasi.

“The entry of Mr Kejriwal into the contest has added to the sense of drama. And, of course, Varanasi is famous around the world. It’s one of India’s most celebrated and historic cities,” he said.

Giving reasons for global media’s interest in Varanasi, Otton said it is one of India’s best-known cities internationally and the fight here has certainly more resonance for a foreign audience.

He said the number of people in Modi’s roadshow before filing of nomination was “pretty striking” although that may say as much about the BJP’s organisational abilities as support for him in the city.

“I imagine quite a few of those who watched the roadshow from their balconies or shop-fronts were just interested in the spectacle rather than die-hard BJP supporters. Mind you, the sheer size of almost every aspect of India’s elections is a bit of an eye-opener for outsiders,” he said.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi had won the seat after defeating Mukhtar Ansari, who is currently in jail in a murder case, by a margin of 17,000 votes

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