A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com visited many polling booths in Varanasi on polling day. This is what he discovered:
There was hardly any traffic on the road to Sevapuri. Most of the vehicles that passed by had security personnel on board, the local police and central paramilitary forces.
A lone policeman was listening to music on his cell phone at a village in the Sevapuri assembly constituency. He had earphones plugged in. He did not hear or notice three jeeps coming to a screeching halt in the centre of the road.
The jeeps were full of cops. One cop jumped out to buy three bottles of mineral water. Another started abusing the lone cop who was still blissfully unaware. Something finally got his attention and he ran to the jeep hastily pulling out the ear plugs. He still got an earful.
The three jeeps left the main road and turned to Bhishampur village. This is the third largest panchayat in the Sevapuri assembly area, which is part of the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency.
The villagers said the village has 2,000 voters. "We will see 80 per cent polling today. 20 per cent of our village works in Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat."
The polling booth at Bhishampur was crowded with long queues stretching out.
A young girl was having a lively chat with a paramilitary trooper who was guarding the booth with a heavy rifle. His weapon did not scare the child who was laughing as she spoke to him. The trooper also seemed delighted with the child. Elections were the last thing on both their minds.
Outside the booth there was a lively debate on how many seats the Congress would win. "84," one young man predicted.
"In the country?" "No! In this state," leading to rousing shouts that Uttar Pradesh only had 80 Lok Sabha seats.
The visiting cops seemed satisfied with the polling at the booth and went on their way.
Our next stop was in Rohaniya, also a part of the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat. Shahavabad village falls on the Grand Trunk Road that connects Delhi and Kolkata.
This village has 2,500 voters and here too the booths were crowded at 9:30 am.
There was a fervour and desire to vote.
"The wind is blowing in the BJP's direction" was the general refrain here.
Back in the city, I visited a booth in the cantonment area. It had no crowds at all. The cops on duty, who were from Kanpur, said voters had been coming in twos and fours. The booth was never crowded.
Some party workers had downloaded the voters list on to their computers and were sitting with laptops on the footpath.
In North Varanasi tempers ran high at one booth as many names were missing from the voters' list. The Election Commission had apologised to Mumbai voters about the missing names. Here, a mere apology would not work.
In South Varanasi too, the booths were active and crowded.
Party cadres were distributing water packets outside the polling booths and they were doing it silently. They did not ask you to vote for their candidate.
There was excitement in the air. For the first time voters were voting for a possible prime minister, or for a man who wanted to defeat the prime ministerial candidate, or for a man who asked for votes only at night.
The ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, was not visible. Neither was there any marked presence of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the former ruling party.
Image: Little girls chat with a paramilitary trooper during polling at a booth in Varanasi. Photograph: Sandeep Pal/Rediff.com