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BJP attacks EC over Varanasi curbs, Modi gets grand welcome

Varanasi: Thousands of BJP activists Thursday protested in Varanasi and New Delhi against the poll panel's initial curbs on rallies by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi even as he got a warm welcome on his visit here with crowds thronging the routes he travelled.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi waves to BJP supporters in Varanasi. File pic

Other political parties however accused the BJP of creating needless tensions, while Chief Election Commissioner V.S.Sampath, dismissing the BJP's allegations of lack of neutrality, said the permission was denied to hold following "professional advice on security grounds".

Before Modi flew into the Hindu holy city Thursday evening to address one rally that got the poll panel's green signal late Wednesday, a virtual army of BJP workers staged noisy demonstrations outside the Banaras Hindu University and the district magistrate's office.

"This is completely unconstitutional," charged senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley, a Modi confidant. "Modi is being prevented from addressing election rallies in his own constituency. We have no option but to protest."

Modi was accorded a grand welcome by party workers when he reached the city.

After his chopper landed at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Modi was to go to the Sigra party election office but his departure was delayed due to security reasons as the crowds at the Lanka Chowk outside the BHU gate, swelled by every passing hour.

After an hour, his heavily-protected motorcade waded slowly through the millions who had lined up on both sides of the roads. Modi did not come out of his car but waved at the surging crowd of supporters from inside.

It took him more than four hours to reach the office and as he finally got there by 9.30 p.m., rose petals were showered on him by waiting party workers. A visibly exhausted Modi smiled and moved inside the office and interacted with a select group of party workers and conducted a brief Lakshmi Puja. An hour later he left for the airport.

Party general secretary Ananth Kumar told reporters that Modi asked party workers to ensure that they campaign well and the booth management on the polling day - May 12 is perfect.

Earlier in New Delhi, slogan-shouting BJP activists led by Harsh Vardhan marched to the Election Commission headquarters that was put under tight security.

Besides Vadodara, Modi is also contesting the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi. His two main opponents are AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal - who said Thursday that Modi was poised to lose - and Ajay Rai of the Congress.

As crowds swelled at both protest sites in Varanasi, thousands of police and paramilitary forces were deployed to maintain peace. On his part, Modi too appealed for calm.

Jaitley accused District Magistrate Pranjal Yadav of acting at the behest of the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh by fettering Modi.

The BJP declared war on the Election Commission after it said Wednesday that Modi wouldn't be allowed to hold two rallies or meet intellectuals at a hotel here. Security reasons were cited as reasons for the curbs.

But late at night Wednesday, the poll panel said Modi could go ahead with all events including a Ganga aarti but he must not address a planned rally in Varanasi city.

By then, tempers were running high.

Before heading to Varanasi, Modi told an election rally in Azamgarh that the Election Commission had shown bias and told the panel to ensure a free and fair election in the final phase Monday.

Modi alleged large-scale bungling during voting in states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the last three phases of the staggered parliamentary elections.

But the Election Commission, he thundered, had not intervened.

In Varanasi, Aam Aadmi Party leader Kejriwal accused Modi of politicising the issue of the 'Ganga aarti', saying no permission was needed to perform it.

"They (BJP) said they asked for permission. But you don't need permission to perform an aarti unless you are using party flags, banners or indulging in political activity," he said.

He accused the BJP of doing "drama" to capture media space ahead of the Monday balloting, and insisted that Modi would surely lose the election in Varanasi.

BSP leader Mayawati and Congress leader P. Chidambaram made similar charges. Mayawati said Modi's aim was to polarize voters on communal lines in Varanasi and its neighbouring region.

The Samajwadi Party - which governs Uttar Pradesh -- hit out at Modi, saying contrary to his allegations, it had done everything to protect him in the state.

Sampath also deplored "attempts to cast aspersions on the ECI at a very sensitive juncture of the poll process, which could also "cause long-term damage" to the institution.

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