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Crowds lose appetite for Kejriwal protest

New Delhi, April 3: Arvind Kejriwal is on a fast but appetites for his protest don’t seem the same anymore.

The activist has been on a hunger strike almost unnoticed for the past 12 days in a narrow east Delhi lane as he strives to gain a foothold for his fledgling Aam Aadmi Party ahead of the Delhi elections this year-end.

The lack of attention seems a far cry from the headline-grabbing 2011 Lokpal agitation when Kejriwal had joined mentor Anna Hazare.

Kejriwal, who parted ways with Hazare when he decided to make a political foray with the launch of his party, has been fasting since March 23 urging Delhiites not to pay electricity and water bills to protest recent hikes in charges.

He has alleged that the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government has allowed the private companies that run the utilities to overcharge users for huge profits.

The lower-middle class Sunder Nagri lane, far away from the high-profile Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Grounds that served as the springboards of the Lokpal agitation, has been carefully chosen.

The aim is to ensure the common man, or aam aadmi, identifies with the issues and backs the current “non-co-operation movement”.

Kejriwal hopes to field candidates in all 70 constituencies of Delhi and has chosen the bijli-paani (power-water) issue hoping to create a buzz around his new party.

But on the 12th day of the fast that has knocked 8kg off his lean frame, the outcome seems far from encouraging. He hasn’t garnered media attention, nor drawn the big crowds he once used to.

A sparse crowd of mostly his party members gathered at the venue late in the afternoon today when Kejriwal appeared on the dais for around an hour. Kejriwal appears on stage once daily, around 4pm, remaining cooped up in a supporter’s house near the venue for the rest of the day.

But his party members are unfazed by the lacklustre response. They claim the fast has awakened Delhiites, similar to the way Gandhi’s non-co-operation movement did. Speaker after speaker today urged Kejriwal to end his fast, fearing it could endanger his life.

But Kejriwal, 42, claimed his health was fine and indicated he wanted to continue till April 6 to coincide with a historical date, Gandhi’s salt agitation of April 6, 1930.

Another niggling doubt looms. Sources said Kejriwal aimed to collect over 25 lakh signatures for his agitation before he ends his fast but so far his comrades have been able to rustle up only 8 lakh, or just over a third of the target.

“By tomorrow, our activists should collect 10 lakh signatures and then we will ask Arvind to end his fast,” declared one speaker today, indicating the target could be lowered to 18 lakh in an effort to get the leader to relent.

Kejriwal asked party members to defy the government on April 6 by re-connecting electricity and water connections snapped over non-payment.