Varanasi: The campaign for one of the most keenly-watched Lok Sabha seats came to an end here on Saturday on a note of bitter acrimony as the holy town turned into a key political battleground of roadshows, rallies and public meetings where rival leaders traded barbs.
Living up to its mythological history of once being the stage for a battle between Gods and Demons, Varanasi has seen key candidates Narendra Modi of BJP, Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party and Ajay Rai of Congress as also many other party leaders launching some of the fiercest attacks on their rivals.
Also in poll fray are Samajwadi Party, BSP, Trinamool Congress and many smaller parties as also a large number of independent candidates, adding to the total number of those fighting from this prestigious Lok Sabha seat to 42.
On the last day of campaigning today for polls on May 12, two major roadshows brought the city to a halt.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi held a 12-km and over four-hour-long roadshow in support of Rai this morning while UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also came for a SP roadshow to seek votes for the party candidate Kailash Chaurasiya.
AAP also held a roadshow and although Kejriwal could not join senior party leader Kumar Vishwas, who has taken on Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, led it.
Rahul`s roadshow was seen as a response to the one held by Modi in Amethi before May 7 polling there, which had broken an unwritten code of a top politician not campaigning in the political backyard of a leading rival.
Going by the size of crowds, Rahul Gandhi`s roadshow was huge and so was Akhilesh Yadav`s. Kejriwal had also held a massive roadshow yesterday that continued for over five hours before culminating in a public rally where he launched a scathing attack on Modi and also predicted the collapse of both BJP and Congress after the Lok Sabha election.
While Rahul didn`t address public in Varanasi, he attended a rally in nearby Chandauli constituency later in the day and there he hit hard at Modi who himself addressed five rallies in different nearby constituencies.
The latest series of roadshows began on May 8 when Modi drove through the city after being denied permission to hold a public rally at minority-dominated Beniabagh area here.
He, however, addressed a rally on the same day in Rohaniya, a rural area outside Varanasi city but within this Lok Sabha constituency.
Modi also had planned to participate in Ganga Aarti on ghats here, but had to cancel the same after delay in permission from local authorities.
Kejriwal conducted Ganga Aarti along with his wife on the same evening.
Denial of permission to Modi had triggered a major showdown between BJP and the election authorities and Election Commission had to appoint a special election observer for Varanasi polls.
As the campaigning ended, all major parties also held press conferences exuding confidence in their wins.
Arvind Kejriwal was not present but his party colleague Yogendra Yadav said AAP charted a different course by challenging the resources of biggest industrial houses and established political parties.
Yadav claimed AAP got huge support during its foray into national elections.
"This election will be known for shameless use of money and media to create a wave", he said.
On the other hand, BJP President Rajnath Singh claimed Modi would win by a huge margin and all other candidates would lose their deposits.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the party was not in the race for a "silver medal" and the huge crowd at Rahul Gandhi roadshow and the "massive" support for Ajay Rai was a clear pointer towards the party`s victory in Varanasi.
While campaigning has ended, officials, leaders of various parties said they and their supporters would continue to door-to-door canvassing as public programmes cannot be conducted now.
To check any campaigning beyond the deadline, which was at 5 pm today, the election authorities have already decided to evict all those people from the city who had come here for campaign-related purposes and are not registered voters here.
This would include senior party leaders of BJP, Congress, AAP and others who are not Varanasi voters as also family members of those candidates who are resident of other places such as Kejriwal.