As the high-octane Uttar Pradesh polls enter the last leg, all eyes are on the electoral battle in and around Varanasi which will see Prime Minister Narendra Modi and prominent leaders from opposition parties leading their campaigns.
Modi, who has been criss-crossing the state all along in the seven-phase Uttar Pradesh elections, will lead the poll blitzkrieg in his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi for two days on March 4 and 5.
Voting for the seventh and final round will be held on March 7 for Varanasi and its eight adjoining districts.
Varanasi unit president of the BJP, Vidyasagar Rai, said the prime minister will hold a roadshow in different localities of Varanasi and on March 5, will address a rally in Khajuri village of the district.
The roadshow will be held for three assembly constituencies of Cantt, Varanasi North and Varanasi South. Modi is also scheduled to visit the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Prominent leaders of opposition parties are also reaching the pilgrim city, which would be the nerve centre of the grand finale.
Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee is holding a joint rally with SP president Akhilesh Yadav and his RLD ally Jayant Chaudhary on Thursday. All the allies of the SP-led coalition would attend the rally to give a strong message of challenge to the saffron camp.
After humbling the BJP in her home state West Bengal, Banerjee is trying to lead a formidable grouping of the anti-BJP forces in the next national election.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi and BSP supremo Mayawati have already marked their attendance in Varanasi and neighbouring areas.
It is not yet known whether Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will visit Varanasi or not before the campaign ends on Saturday evening. However, his party leaders including MP Sanjay Singh have been moving around Varanasi for quite some days.
Locked in a fierce poll battle with the Samajwadi Party in particular, winning a majority of seats out of the 54 constituencies in the end round, is a must for the BJP to continue its sway in the 2024 general election.
Riding on the "Modi wave", the BJP-led coalition had won in all the eight assembly segments of Varanasi in 2017 and so was the case in the majority of the seats in the neighbouring districts.
However, changing caste equation and aggressive mobilisation of Muslims in particular by the Samajwadi Party show the outcome would not be one-sided as was the case last time.
BJP's allies Apna Dal (Sonelal) and Nishad Party and Akhilesh Yadav's new friends Apna Dal (K), Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) of Om Prakash Rajbhar and others would have to play an important role to tilt the balance in favour of their groupings.
In 2017, out of the eight assembly seats in Varanasi, the BJP had won six while its partner Apna Dal (S) had bagged one and another one had gone to Rajbhar's SBSP who was with them that time.
Rajbhar is now with Akhilesh Yadav and so are the influential OBC leaders Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and others who have crossed over from the BJP to the SP.
The BJP has fielded its candidates on seven seats and left Rohania constituency for union minister Anupriya Patel headed Apna Dal (S).
Akhilesh Yadav has nominated four SP candidates in Varanasi and has left four others to allies, Apna Dal (Kamerwadi) headed by Anupriya's mother Krishna Patel and two for Rajbhar's SBSP.
Varanasi has over 3.25 lakh Vaisyas, three lakh Muslims, Brahmins (2.5 lakh), Patels known locally as OBC Kurmi (2 lakh), Yadavs (1.5 lakh), Thakurs (1 lakh), Dalits 80,000 and other OBC castes 70,000.
Reports suggest that the SP and other opposition parties are trying to dent the BJP's support base among Brahmins by playing on their reported unhappiness with the saffron party.
A strong poll battle is on the cards in neighbouring Mirzapur and Jaunpur too where the BJP had won hands down last time.
Besides Varanasi, the last round of polling would also cover Azamgarh and Vindhyachal regions.
The 54 seats going to polls on March 7 are in Azamgarh, Mau, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Chandauli, Varanasi, Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Sonbhadra.
SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav is also expected to attend a rally in Malhani assembly constituency in neighbouring Jaunpur district during the day in favour of Lucky Yadav, son of his long-time associate and former minister Parasnath Yadav.