By Gaurav Sharma, Varanasi, April 29 IANS | 5 months ago

Dusk has begun to fall and a group of little urchins sporting saffron caps and wearing Narendra Modi masks play outside AAP's central office here and hail BJP's prime ministerial nominee with slogans they have picked up over the past few weeks.


Smiling wryly, an AAP member goes to them and offers some biscuits and bottles of soft drink. The kids happily accept the goodies, don the boat-shaped AAP white caps and begin slogan-shouting for Kejriwal. Considering the Herculean task of defeating Modi in what is termed a 'Hindu city', even though it has a large population of Muslims, the AAP is happy to recruit anyone in Varanasi that goes to the polls in less than a fortnight (May 12) from now.

But defeating Modi on a turf where the BJP has won five out of the six elections since 1991 will be a daunting challenge for Kejriwal who vanquished Delhi's three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit in assembly elections in 2013 and went on to become a national figure.

"The fight against Modi is no doubt tough, but we will sail through," said Gopal Mohan who is in-charge of party's campaign in Varanasi.

With skeletal resources at their disposal, the AAP is heavily banking on it door-to-door campaign - one of its tried and tested poll strategies in Delhi assembly elections. The party stunned the entire nation by bagging 28 seats in a house of 70.

"Out of the 3.15 lakh households, we have reached 1.75 lakh," Mohan told IANS at the party office, which issues directions to four other offices in the city. Mohan says that around 15,000 locals joined the party as volunteers and are engaged in door-to-door campaigns, the party's forte.

In the two-storey office, the same faces, who burnt midnight oil at AAP's office in Hanuman Road on Delhi, can be seen working with the same zeal to repeat the "success of Delhi".

"We are going to those villages and the corners which politicians have not never visited. The response is fantastic," Anand, a party member, told IANS.

Varanasi has five assembly segments and five leaders, including Kejriwal's closest aide and former Delhi minister Manish Sisodia, have been looking after the campaigning work in these seats.

Many Varanasi residents, who IANS spoke to, seem to be fascinated with the Modi's claimed Gujarat model of development which is BJP's sellling point in the campaign. This suggests Kejriwal's anti-corruption plank is yet to capture the imagination of some 1.6 million voters.

Besides, it is Kejriwal's abrupt resignation as the chief minister of Delhi that appears to have put off people who call him a "good man," but not a "good administrator".

"He could not run Delhi, let alone Varanasi. I will not waste my vote," Aditya Mishra, a student of Banaras Hindu University, told IANS.

However, the party says it is getting success in convincing people about the reasons for the resignation. So much so, that Kejriwal, who has been known to be a good debater and speaker since his IIT Kharagpur days, has held training sessions with local volunteers on how to argue with people and convince them.

"Don't be defensive when voters call me escapist. Tell them so what if Kejriwal is escapist, I am not a thief. At least I am not the agent of Ambani," Kejriwal thunders in a training session.

"Kejriwal is our biggest strength. He can connect with the people in a manner which Modi cannot do," Sisodia told IANS.

The indefatigable Kejriwal, unmindful of the searing heat, is holding back-to-back public rallies, some of which have been very well attended too.

It is also the 300,000-odd Muslim voters the party has pinned its hopes on. With the community more or less presumed to be opposed to Modi, AAP is trying to win over the community.

However, Congress Lok Sabha candidate Ajai Rai, a local leader, might play spoilsport for the AAP. Also, despite BJP's outward show of confidence, posters calling Kejriwal an "escapist" and mysterious pamphlets flaying the AAP clearly show they are not taking the party lightly.

Party workers say they have faced many small attacks including the recent one at Assi Ghat where two of its members were badly beaten up while campaigning.

"If the BJP is sure of winning, then why attack us, why not Congress?" asks a close aide of Kejriwal.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at gaurav.s@ians.in)

(Posted on 29-04-2014)

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