A farmer dressed as independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's lookalike and a man declared dead were among the candidates in the Indian city of Varanasi in ongoing general elections.
In the ancient city, located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and the heartland of Hinduism, the question being asked was not whether Modi will win on Sunday, the last phase of the seven-phase elections in India, but by what margin.
Dilip Yadav, a 27-year-old cab driver, listed the achievements of the country’s current prime minister, who is seeking re-election: “The road from the airport to the city center is new and Varanasi is cleaner than what it was before.
"At least there are no more bodies in the Ganges, ask any of the boatmen and they will tell you," student Anand Prakash said while admitting that a lot more work still needed to be done to end pollution in the sacred river that flows through the city.
But there is more at stake in Varanasi than a seat in the national parliament and vague promises of better infrastructure.
Modi’s presence has the media closely following the campaign, something that many activists have tried to take advantage of.
"I have not come here to defeat Modi. I want to draw his attention to the plight of farmers and the growing corruption," Manohar Anand Rao Patil, a farmer from the western state of Maharashtra, told media during the submission of candidacies for the elections.
The farmer presented his candidacy dressed in the typical white clothes Gandhi used to wear and a photograph of the Indian hero around his neck.
Out of the 102 people who presented their candidacies, 26 were finalized by the Election Commission.
Another aspirant for the post, Abhinandhan Pathak, filed his nomination sporting rectangular spectacles and a well-kept grey beard which gave him a striking resemblance to Modi, but his candidacy was rejected by the Election Commission.
Some activists who announced they were running and received media attention did not end up contesting, like Lal Bihari "Mritak", a word that means deceased in Hindi.
Lal Bihari was declared dead by a court in July 1976 in a dispute over the ownership of land with his cousins, who knew which official to bribe to expedite the false procedure, he claims.
“Finally after struggling for such a long time, I became alive again on 30th June 1994. But I did not feel that I got the justice then,” Bihari, who is a resident of Azamgarh, located around 100 kilometers from Varanasi, told EFE.
The farmer, who has founded the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People, wanted to present a candidate in the same situation but failed to do so due to a shortage of funds.
“The fees to file a nomination is 25,000 rupees ($355) as security and an independent candidate has to have at least 10 proposers. This is Election Commission’s rule.
"The candidate is so poor that he is surviving with the help of others,” he explained.
Tej Bahadur Yadav did not lack the money or support of a coalition of two well-established regional parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both opposing Modi.
But the former soldier, dismissed from the Indian Border Security Force for releasing a video in 2016 on the poor quality of food, says that his candidacy was rejected at the last minute because the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saw him as a threat.
"You (Modi) ask for votes in the name of the army, in the name of the martyrs, when I had uncovered corruption, I had trusted Modi to take action, thinking he was a good prime minister.
"But I was dismissed, many other soldiers were also sacked in a similar manner,” he told EFE.
He said the SP and BSP have replaced him with Shalini Yadav, whose main strength is the goodwill of father-in-law, Shyam Lal Yadav, a Congress party leader.
The Congress Party of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is fielding Ajay Rai, a lawmaker with a dubious reputation.
The results of the elections will be declared on May 23. EFE-EPA