In Varanasi, myriad motivation for voting: Selfie with inked finger, say in country's future

As the country prepares for the last leg of polling, the excitement among the electorate in the temple town of Varanasi, which gave the country a prime minister last time it voted in the Lok Sabha election, is palpable, with people counting myriad reasons to go out and vote.

"Feeling of being a responsible citizen who has a say in deciding the future of the country," is the reason why Rahul, a first year student and a first-time voter, is excited about participating in the electoral process.

The Sunday voting in this high-profile constituency will be keenly watched not only in the country but also across the globe as it will decide whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi returns as a parliamentarian in the lower house.

The young and the first-time voters are the most excited lot in the constituency, which in 2014 voted for Modi with a staggering 56.37 per cent vote share -- a 25.85 percentage point swing in favour of the BJP as compared to 2009 when the saffron party's Murali Manohar Joshi won with a vote share of 30.5 per cent.

"We all will go together to cast our votes as being a responsible citizen it is out duty," says 25-year-old Seema, sitting with her friends at the Assi ghat here.

Seema, who is pursuing doctorate from the Banaras Hindu University, said she will cast her first vote in 2014 and has participated in all the elections since then, as has her friends sitting there.

The elections were announced on March 10 and the country has voted in six phases already with social media flooded with people posting selfies flaunting their fingers with indelible ink.

This has inspired a first-time voter Sourav to go out and vote.

"For more than a month or so I am watching my friends from other states post their selfies with ink on their figure. Now it is my turn, I don't want to miss this opportunity," he says.

The constituency has witnessed an extravagant campaigning in the last month or so, with celebrities and high-profile leaders participating in it, which included roadshows by Modi and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Besides Modi, there are 25 other candidates who are in fray, but his main challengers are Congress' Ajay Rai and SP-BSP grand alliance's nominee Shalini Yadav.

There was a speculation of Priyanka Gandhi also contesting from this high-profile seat which had raised the stakes of political parties in this constituency.

But the Congress again reposed faith in Rai, who lost his deposit in the 2014 general election.

Rai, who hails from the Bhumihar community, also has a considerable following among Brahmins. He began his political career as a member of the ABVP, the RSS' student wing, and was elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly as a BJP candidate from Kolasala thrice in a row between 1996 and 2007.

After being denied a Lok Sabha ticket by the BJP in 2009, he switched to the Samajwadi Party and lost election to Murali Manohar Joshi, who was a BJP nominee, by a margin of 17,000 votes.

Shalini Yadav is the daughter-in-law of Shyamlal Yadav, who was elected as an MP from Varanasi in 1984.

In 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi had defeated Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal by a margin of 3.37 lakh votes in Varanasi. Kejriwal, who had contested as AAP nominee in 2014, managed to get 2 lakh votes.

Whereas, the Congress could manage only 7.3 per cent votes and the combined vote share of the SP-BSP was only 10.7 per cent in 2014.

In Varanasi, there are 18.54 lakh electorates in the constituency who will cast their votes on Sunday in 1,819 polling booths, out of which 273 are categorised as critical.

Sharing the details about the polling process, local District Magistrate Surendra Singh, who is also the returning officer, said, "The administration has set up 145 model booths and one pink booth which will be operated only by women."

Singh also appealed to voters to come out in large numbers to cast vote in Varanasi, which had reported 58.35 per cent polling in 2014.

There are five assembly segments in Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency -- Rohaniya, Varanasi North, Varanasi South, Varanasi Cantonment and Sevapuri.

Last time, Modi had got 56.37 per cent votes out of the total polled and there was a swing of 25.85 votes in his favour from 2009 when Joshi had got 30.5 per cent votes for the BJP, whereas the combined vote share of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party was 46.6 per cent.

In 2009, the SP and the BSP contested separately, their combined vote share was 46.6 per cent which was more that of BJP's 30.5 which had nominated Joshi as its candidate.