In Varanasi, Sisodia lays ground for Kejriwal (Election Special)

Varanasi, April 22: “Why should I vote for Arvind Kejriwal when he doesn’t have a chance here? And why not Modi?” snaps Shrikant Poddar at AAP leader Manish Sisodia, who nonchalantly sips tea at a stall in one of the busiest markets of Varanasi.

“He has committed a mistake by deciding to contest against (Narendra) Modi. He will end up losing his deposit,” the 60-year-old businessman, who sports three horizontal sandal paste stripes on his wizened forehead, ridicules Aam Aadmi Party’s chief further.

Having lent his ear to this die-hard Modi supporter, Sisodia asks him to single out one reason for supporting Modi and outrightly rejecting Kejriwal.

“BJP will win 300 seats because of Modi. He will give better future,” Poddar responds off-hand.

To Sisodia’s another poser on how would Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate transform this chaotic city into a modern one, Poddar says: “Better future, what else? I am not against Kejriwal. He is a good man.”

Sisodia smiles and enters into the labyrinth of bylanes of teeming Godowalia Market to court the support of hundreds of traders for Kejriwal who will take on Modi in arguably the most-watched electoral battle of the on-going general elections.

That’s how Sisodia – Kejriwal’s closest colleague – is laying the ground for the former Delhi chief minister’s poll campaign in Varanasi. The temple city goes to polls May 12.

Many onlookers stop by and shake hands with Sisodia, some only after realising that it is none other than Delhi’s former minister.

“The bolts of this country have loosened up. You can only tighten these up by voting for jhadhu (broom),” Sisodia urges an owner of a hardware shop.

Talking to IANS during his door-to-door campaign while Kejriwal is away in Amethi, Sisodia said: “We can only rely on one-on-one interaction. We have convinced many BJP supporters.”

On streets, Sisodia and his other party workers face several people like Poddar who dismiss Kejriwal as a serious contender and call him an “escapist”.

“Arvind’s resignation has indeed disappointed people in Varanasi. We are telling them it is for the good of the country that we left government,” Sisodia tells IANS.

After running a 49-day government in Delhi, Kejriwal and his cabinet resigned over his government’s failure to introduce the anti-graft Jan Lokpal bill in the face of combined opposition to it by the BJP and the Congress.

The former Delhi education minister also comes across those who still see a ray of hope in the AAP which is fighting Lok Sabha polls on the anti-corruption plank. While some panwallahs (betel-leaf sellers) offer him famed Banarsi paan, others come to greet him and tell how their wives still support AAP.

When Sisodia and his party workers are talking to people, a bunch of striplings appear out of nowhere and start distributing pamphlets among the public. The pamphlet has some points written on it – one of which is about abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Another one states: No appeasement policy towards minority.

“Aap to Kashmir Pakistan ko de denge (You will give away Kashmir to Pakistan),” said Gyan Tiwari, a teenager distributing the fliers, while arguing with Sisodia.

After much persuasion, Tiwari identifies himself as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) member and claims to only spread “awareness” among the people. The ABVP is the students organisation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Ask what Article 370 is, and Tiwari quips: “You people are educated, I am not.”

He leaves, while Sisodia is left to resume his campaign.

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

IANS