One of Modi's foremost critics will contest if he is the common candidate of a united Opposition, but fielded by the Congress.
Archis Mohan reports.
The LIU, or local intelligence unit, of the Uttar Pradesh police busied itself knocking at all the doors on either side of the road leading up to Banaras Hindu University's main gate.
The police meticulously took down the details of all residents and workers of each household and commercial establishment.
The district administration did not want to take any chances when Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi visited the city to file his nomination papers for the Lok Sabha polls, scheduled on May 19, and take out a road show to the BHU.
The police survey could be a common occurrence for other cities, but is both a new experience for the residents of Varanasi, who pride themselves on their vibrant open culture of democratic contestation at Kashi's hundreds of roadside lassi and tea stalls.
Varanasi is agog with the expectation of a glorious battle if Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were to contest.
There are others keen to contest, including the Samajwadi Party's Surendra Singh Patel, the Congress's Ajay Rai, and a new aspirant in Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, the mahant of the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple, established in the 16th century by Goswami Tulsidas, the author of the Ramcharitamanasa.
Mishra is a professor in the department of electronics engineering at the BHU-Indian institute of Technology.
Mishra has also been one of the foremost critics of Modi's Namami Gange scheme, which he terms a hoax, and of the Centre and BJP-run state government trying to replicate the 'Gujarat model of development', of big roads and riverfront projects, that he says militates against the spirit an ancient city like Varanasi known for its labyrinth of galis (lanes).
Mishra said Varanasi's tragedy has been that "outsiders", who do not understand the ethos of the city and have strange ideas about making it into a Kyoto or Venice, have represented it in Parliament, when the need is for a local to be its MP.
Mishra is keen to contest if he is the common candidate of a united Opposition, but fielded by the Congress.
Mishra has friends in the Congress, including his neighbour and party leader Mohan Prakash, but his name does not enthuse supporters of the SP and the BSP, and others.
Earlier this month, local units of some of the smaller parties, including Communist Party of India-Marxist, flouting a diktat from its central leadership, issued an appeal along with Nationalist Congress Party, CPI, Samajwadi Jan Parishad and others, that the Opposition should field a common candidate.
Most in these parties believe only Priyanka's candidature would ensure that the SP does not field a candidate.