Varanasi, 9 May-2014, Nachiketa Desai: As the din and dust of electioneering settles down, fabled tortoise appears inching towards the victory post even while the hare with his hair-raising screams and shouts is making a desperate last minute dash.
Anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party, with his slow and steady door-to-door campaign in the narrow and dark dirty lanes of Varanasi and on the dusty dumpy roads of the surrounding villages, seems miles ahead of his jet-setter rival Narendra Modi of Bharatiya Janata Party.
With his child-like smile and low-decibel voice, Kejriwal has won the hearts of the toiling poor and educated middle-class alike. His band of AAP volunteers, who have converged here from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Guwahati, have become equally endearing to the people of Varanasi.
AAP was virtually non-existent here till Kejriwal announced on March 25 his decision to challenge Modi in the Lok Sabha election. The local unit of AAP comprised of a handful of volunteers who were at the forefront of the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare. Except for vague idealism, they had no ideological orientation or experience of running a political party.
The day he began his campaign in Varanasi on April 15, Kejriwal set his agenda – he was here to hold talks with the people and not to preach or pontificate. On the very first day, he held an interactive session with the people, answering their easy and not so easy questions and admitted he had committed a mistake by resigning as the chief minister without consulting the people.
Since then, Kejriwal and his supporters have been holding dialogues with the people, facing what many would describe as hostile questions. This troubled supporters of Modi who physically attacked Kejriwal and his team members at every available opportunity.
The BJP, on the other hand, is a well-entrenched party in Varanasi, having three MLAs and an MP for a decade and a half. The party is also in power in the municipal corporation for almost same period. The party draws its manpower from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) whose headquarters for the entire Eastern Uttar Pradesh are located here.
What appears to be the strength of BJP in Varanasi is its greatest weakness too because despite continuing presence in parliament, state assembly and control over the municipal corporation the living conditions of the people in the city and its surrounding villages have deteriorated over the years with squalor, disease, overflowing sewer, polluted Ganga and its two tributaries – Varuna and Assi – increasing unemployment among weavers and other skilled workers and closure of small and home industries staring at them menacingly.
If BJP would have fielded sitting MP Murli Manohar Joshi again from Varanasi he would have lost. He had barely managed to win the last election by a narrow margin of 17,000 votes. The decision to field the party’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi in place of Joshi has charged the BJP rank and file.
So charged were the Sangh workers that they went overboard deifying Modi equating him with Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga. The chant of “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi” ranted the air. The slogan was temporarily discontinued after the Shankaracharya of Dwarka took strong objection and complained to the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. The slogan was revived again when Modi took out a road show here on May 8, two days before the campaign came to a close.
Modi has plastered the constituency with posters and banners which extols people to vote for “Modi Sarkar”, as if the elections were not to elect members of parliament but a prime minister. Avoiding specifics, Modi has been promising to convert Banaras into a hi-tech global city and bring Varanasi on the global map.
AAP, on the other hand, undertook a door-to-door survey to list the problems of the people, an exercise that enabled the party to formulate its manifesto. AAP calls its manifesto as its pledge to the people. It has pledged to address the problems of weavers, sewer and river that are the burning issues of this oldest living city and its people.
Kejriwal received support from unexpected quarters when the Communist Party of India – ML and the Janata Dal (United) decided to work for him. The rank and file of the Communist Party of India (CPI), its trade union outfit and even the INTUC affiliated to the Congress party decided to campaign for Kejriwal.
To add zing to Kejriwal’s campaign, the Progressive Writers’ Association, Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and several national-level forums of theatre artistes held a conference on May 4 here in which speeches were made denouncing the communal and fascist attitude and policies of the BJP in general and Modi in particular. The conference was followed by a peace march to appeal to the people to save the legacy of sufi saints Kabir, Tulsi and Ravidas.
By its door-to-door campaigning, holding dialogues with people, AAP has won the confidence of the poor, the educated middle class and women. “Kejriwal will win by a margin of at least 10,000 to 15,000 votes,” said a Communist Party of India (Marxist) worker. His claim assumes significant in the light of the fact that CPM has fielded Dr Hiralal from Varanasi.
RSS has been given the target of making Modi win by a margin of at least 300,000 votes. Only the results on May 16 will show whose prediction proves to be correct, the CPM worker’s or the RSS’s.