The ghats and galis of Banaras have always had hordes of locals and tourists, but the presence of over 50,000 political volunteers -- working for various parties -- seems to have made this city the 'poll capital' of the country.
A large majority of these volunteers have come from outside Varanasi and, interestingly, candidates fielded by most major political parties for this Lok Sabha seat are also being termed 'outsiders', including the BJP's Prime Ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and the Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal.
The Congress candidate, Ajay Rai, is a Varanasi local, but currently is an MLA from the Pindra Assembly constituency, which is nearby but outside the purview of this Lok Sabha seat.
The Samajwadi Party's Kailash Chaurasiya is a sitting MLA from the nearby Mirzapur Assembly constituency.
Kejriwal, who served as chief minister of Delhi, is already being called by his opponents a 'deserter who has come from Delhi', while there is also a talk about Modi possibly leaving the Varanasi seat, even if he wins from here, to retain Vadodara, the other seat from where he is contesting the Lok Sabha polls.
Notwithstanding these apprehensions, all parties are leaving no stone unturned in their poll campaigns and the activities are expected to further heat up with the filing of Modi's nomination on April 24.
Rai and Chaurasiya have already filed their nominations, while Kejriwal is expected to do so on April 23.
BJP leaders said a final list is being drawn for public meetings of top party functionaries from across the city, while Rai has already appealed to the Gandhi family and other top party leaders to come for campaigning.
SP leaders also expect party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to come here, while BSP is finalising plans for a visit by Mayawati.
The AAP's Kejriwal came here last week and will stay till polling on May 12.
According to figures given by leaders of various parties, the cumulative number of party workers and volunteers working for different candidates at present exceeds 50,000 and could soon touch the one-lakh mark.
That could mean an average of one volunteer for every 10 voters coming out to cast their vote. Varanasi is estimated to have nearly 16 lakh voters and a turnout of about 60 per cent would roughly mean 10 lakh people coming out to vote.
Adding to the presence of a large number of people working for different candidates are hundreds of mediapersons who are here to cover the high-profile battle for this Lok Sabha seat, while many corporates have also sent their representatives to keep a close watch on the trends emerging on a day-to-day basis.
The BJP's national spokesperson Nalin Kohli, who is camping here for the polls, said, "Varanasi has become political capital of these elections with Modi contesting from here and the interest would grow further in coming days."
"This entire election is being fought by BJP on one hand with the agenda of development and, on the other hand, with an agenda of anti-Modi-ism by the rest of the parties," he said.
Kejriwal has already said that a defeat for Modi in Varanasi would ensure that the Gujarat chief minister does not become prime minister, while other parties have also focused their campaigns so far on Modi.
Volunteers from different parties have begun marching across the city in large numbers, while Rai also held a roadshow with a huge convoy of party workers and supporters on the day of filing his nomination on April 17. Modi is expected to hold a roadshow covering about 2 kms before filing his nomination papers. The party is already working to ensure that the number of people present for this runs into the tens of thousands, BJP leaders said here.
The BJP has taken a huge lead in terms of the number of 'volunteers at work' in Varanasi and their strength is already estimated to be over 35,000, according to leaders in the party and organisations related to it.
This includes about 5,000 local youth and a similar number of party workers from Varanasi, while resources have been pooled in from many adjoining districts, as also from different parts of the country, including the far-south.
However, it is the members of the ABVP and the cadre of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as well as many other related organisations, which contribute the most to the total number of people working on Modi's campaign here, according to local BJP leaders and senior functionaries of the RSS and the ABVP.
Besides, a large number of 'standalone Modi' supporters are also already here and this component would grow manifold once polling is over in Gujarat.
The numbers are expected to increase further for all parties as volunteers are expected to be brought in from different parts of the country once Lok Sabha polls in those areas are over.
Polling in Varanasi will be held in the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections, which is spread over nine phases.
Among other parties, the AAP has also brought in a large number of volunteers from Delhi and expects more people to join in from other states in the coming days.
AAP leaders also said that students in Varanasi, which has five full-fledged universities and colleges affiliated to a sixth one, Poorvanchal University, are working as its volunteers.
Congress' Rai has also roped in volunteers and supporters from his assembly constituency and other adjoining areas in large numbers -- which, however, comes a distant second to that of the BJP and Modi at the moment.
Similarly, parties like the SP and the BSP also have a strong cadre presence, while another regional party, the Apna Dal, has deployed its workers in support of Modi after entering into an alliance with the BJP.
The CPI(M) candidate Heera Lal Yadav is also in the fray and all Left party workers are campaigning for him, while Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress has brought in party workers from West Bengal for its candidate Indira Tiwari.
According to a local BJP leader, the party has roped in workers and functionaries from over 80 wards in Varanasi, while all its local MLAs, corporators and elected panchayat members and their respective supporters are working throughout the Lok Sabha constituency, which comprises five assembly constituencies.
In a way, this huge influx of people has added to the traffic jams and is making life inconvenient for the locals, but this also means good business for hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and other traders.
The local population of Varanasi city itself is over 10 lakh and the density is high at about 2,500 people per square kilometre. Besides, the city attracts a huge tourist influx -- about 30 lakh domestic and over 2 lakh foreign tourists a year -- mostly as an important holy place for Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, among others.