Even the worst enemies of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal would not have anticipated that his maiden visit to Varanasi would garner him so much media attention. Thanks to the misplaced opposition by the BJP cadres, Kejriwal has firmly positioned himself as Narendra Modi’s prime challenger.
The hostile reception to Kejriwal in Varanasi — rotten eggs were hurled at him — has prompted political observers to wonder as to what prompted the BJP to mount such a protest against the AAP leader. If there is indeed a Modi wave blowing across the country and if his candidature will have a positive impact on the BJP’s prospects not only in the neighbouring constituencies but also in the Bhojpur region of Bihar, then why is the BJP so scared of AAP? ask the observers.
By announcing his intention to contest against Modi, has Kejriwal exposed the chinks in the BJP’s armour? “Why can’t the BJP open a dialogue with its opponents where both parties present their viewpoint and leave the people to make their own judgement?” asks a local resident.
Former Banaras Hindu University (BHU) students’ union chief and JD(U) leader Shiv Kumar Singh says Modi’s victory is not a foregone conclusion. “The mother of all electoral battles will not be a cakewalk for Modi,” he says. “If that was the case, why did the BJP rush for an alliance with a small political outfit like the Apna Dal, which represents Kurmi OBCs? Earlier, the BJP was pressing Apna Dal to merge with the party. After Modi’s name was announced, they settled for an alliance.”
Local AAP leaders may be greenhorns in politics but they are articulate enough to draw political mileage from the incidents in Varanasi against Kejriwal. “We do not know who attacked our leader Kejriwal; we suspect only the losers would have done it,” says AAP leader Vijay Pathak, who is in charge of the Varanasi constituency. “We are now in a direct fight with the BJP’s PM candidate. We may not have achieved the victory in numbers, as it will be known on the day of counting, but are certainly the winner on moral grounds.”
“We are not talking about big issues like turning India into a superpower,” he adds. “We are focusing on issues like the living hell called Varanasi, rampant corruption, crony capitalism and the security of women.”
JD(U) leader Singh claims that the temple town has never witnessed such hostility between two political parties in the past. “The hostility shown by BJP supporters has once again exposed the fascist character of the party. It claims to be a cadre-based party but is now dancing to the tunes of a particular individual,” he says. “Kejriwal has not declared himself as a prime ministerial candidate and neither does his party have a pan-Indian presence, but he is putting himself at par with Rahul Gandhi and Modi. He may not make it to Parliament but his aim is to push others in, and even without being an MP, he will be a force to reckon with.”
Political analyst Sudhir Pawar agrees. “Kejriwal is not going to win from Varanasi but he will be a rallying point for those who don’t subscribe to the BJP’s ideology, at least in Uttar Pradesh,” he says. “By positioning himself against Modi, he will prove his credentials. The BJP is scared of Kejriwal as he is yet to become a part of the political class, where all top leaders know each other and take care of each others’ interests.
“Political parties are scared of AAP’s tactics. They fear that the party will replicate its performance in the Delhi Assembly election. So far, AAP has not used traditional political tools for mobilising voters. They use plain and simple language while talking about issues that affect the common man.”
BHU student Anil Pandey has the last word. “The people of Varanasi are stunned by the egg-throwing incident, and that too in front of the Kashi Vishwanath temple,” he says. “The people have unanimously condemned this incident. I am no AAP supporter, but nobody has ever shown such disrespect to a pilgrim outside the temple.”