These villagers, mostly Kurmi by caste, had shown signs of shifting towards Kejriwal, following an extensive door-to-door campaign by AAP volunteers in this village, about 8 km from the city.
“Some communist-minded youth are getting attracted towards AAP,” said Rajnish Singh, the leader of the BJP band. “They were trying to mislead these villagers. Now that we have explained them about Kejriwal’s truth, they are back with us again.”
Among those he was sitting with was Munna Patel, the principal of the Shanti Kunj Bal Vidyalaya, and leader of the Kurmis in the village.
Initially, Munna Patel nodded in support as Singh praised the villagers’ commitment to Hindutva. But later he told the Scroll.in that he and other villagers had decided to return to the saffron fold only after eliciting from the BJP leaders the promise of a road in their locality.
“For years we have been demanding a proper road linking our locality to the main road, but nothing happened,” he said. “So we decided to switch over to Kejriwal this time. But since they [local BJP leaders] are saying that our demand will be met after the election, we are thinking to give them one more chance.”
The BJP might have managed to fill the breach caused by the AAP volunteers’ guerilla campaign in Kotwa Chhawani. But that is just the beginning of it. The direct-to-people approach of Kejriwal’s campaign already is being discussed in the constituency. Though the BJP workers consider the victory of prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi a foregone conclusion in Varanasi, they are watching AAP’s unique campaign style with deep anxiety.
The rush by the BJP workers to mend fences with the villagers of Kotwa Chhawani is an indication that the party is starting to give Modi’s army cause for worry. So worried, in fact, that a group of men who appeared to be BJP supporters on Wednesday assaulted AAP leader Somnath Bharti as he was a television show in Varanasi (pictured above).
The door-to-door visits by AAP volunteers have gained momentum after a series of meetings addressed by Kejriwal in the constituency on April 16-19. On Wednesday, the AAP leader described the kind of campaign he would run. “I am a fakir,” he said. “I will run a campaign on your money. You decide what kind of democracy you want: helicopter wala or gaon-gali wala?”
Girsant Kumar, a full-time AAP volunteer, said that a minimum of 200 volunteers are working in each of the five assembly segments of Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency. “The number will go up sharply in next two to three days,” he said.
According to Gursant, the AAP volunteer groups have started functioning in almost all panchayats of Sevapuri and Rohiniya assembly segments of the constituency, and work will be completed in the other three – Varanasi North, Varanasi South and Varanasi Cantonment – over the next two or three days.
On Wednesday, immediately after filing of his nomination papers, Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia held separate meetings with AAP’s full-time activists of all the five assembly segments of Varanasi Lok Sabha seat. It was decided that Kejriwal would participate in six to seven meetings every day till the campaign ends in this constituency.
The AAP has already planned to start Gram Sabha meetings from Thursday. These will be attended by senior leaders of the party. This is expected to give a further momentum to the AAP’s door-to-door campaign.
On April 16, Kejriwal addressed villagers at Kotwa Chhawani. On his way to the village, he stopped at several places to talk to locals. “He stopped at my residence, took water, talked to us about various problems and then proceeded for his meeting at Kotwa,” said Alauddin, a resident of Mangalpur village. “He is like one of us, but we have not decided yet.”
Even if he doesn’t defeat Modi, his ability to persuade voters that they have other possibilities will be his greatest achievement.
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