During the Jan Lokpal movement, Arvind Kejriwal the activist had managed to enthuse Varanasi’s youth. Today Arvind Kejriwal the possible AAP candidate will require more of those skills if he takes on Narendra Modi.
He arrives March 25 to address a rally and start his campaign from here.
Few citizens, including the youth, seem to have taken his challenge seriously this time. Many say Kejriwal left a lot to be desired after the hype generated during the Jan Lokpal movement.
Says Anupam Kumar Singh of Banaras Hindu University, “I was part of it. Kejriwal promised so many things but nothing came of it; he gave it all up midway (referring to the resignation as Delhi chief minister). People are looking towards not only Modi but also Gujarat. There is hope Varanasi will develop.” Says his friend Ram Kinkar, part of a leftist student organisation, “Many in the university were attracted to the movement. But after the government fell, the appeal has faded.” And school teacher Ashvini Kumar says, “I had great respect for him. But he wants everything within six months of creating a party. He should have taken things one at a time.”
But AAP spokesperson Ramanand Rai is confident: “We have over 52,000 members, ward-level committees. There is an undercurrent in favour of Kejriwal, which will reflect in the rally.”
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Kejriwal will arrive by train Tuesday, visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and then reach Benia Bagh maidan in the afternoon, following a roadshow. The route for the roadshow through the busy market areas has not yet been cleared by the administration. Kejriwal will stay overnight and meet workers and people Wednesday. His election office is likely to open in a couple of days.
The maidan (officially Raj Narain Park) has seen public meetings of historic figures from Jawaharlal Nehru to Sonia Gandhi, and including Jai Prakash Narain, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and Raj Narain. It has Hindu and Muslim localities on either side. Old-timers say the divide is clear although it does not come in the way of trade.
AAP leaders Sanjay Singh, Alka Lamba and Adarsh Shastri, have been camping in the city for three or four days. They have met fishermen-boatmen, traders and members of the Valmiki community (commonly engaged in cleaning work).
A dozen teams have been constituted to take out padyatras on Kejriwal’s visit. There have been reports of AAP workers asking people to donate for a to-the-venue-and-back trip, but Rai denied it.
The AAP, for its part, has accused the BJP of threatening its men. BJP state spokesperson Ashok Pandey said: “Nobody is paying them attention, so they are levelling such charges.”Officially, the BJP has asked its workers not to obstruct Kejriwal’s visit.