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Retreat cloud on national ambitions

AAP leader Gopal Rai

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Arvind Kejriwal’s hasty retreat from his dharna appears to have jolted the Aam Aadmi Party’s strategy to use the protest as a big-bang launch of its Lok Sabha election campaign.

The protest venue was possibly symbolic for the rookie party that had a stunning debut in the Delhi Assembly elections. Kejriwal’s squatting less than 100 metres from Parliament’s main entrance is being seen as a knock on its doors in the run-up to the election.

The retreat seemed to have hit the morale of AAP leaders and volunteers working towards a repeat of the party’s performance at the national level. The party plans to contest some 400 Lok Sabha seats and challenge the BJP and the Congress.

Party leaders conceded they had suffered a jolt. But they insisted that the protest had struck a chord among the proletariat, despite turning away a section of the bourgeoisie.

“The partial success was the only negative of the agitation,” said spokesperson Dilip Pandey. “But in terms of positives, there were many. People for the first time have seen a chief minister sleeping on the pavement to fight for their safety and security,” he added.

There was another bit of bad news about the party’s membership drive across the country. Against a target of enrolling one crore new members by January 26, the party had just crossed the halfway mark — 50,80,425 — till yesterday.

“We are confident that by January 26 we will achieve the target,” party leader Gopal Rai, who is in charge of the membership drive, said.

Kejriwal stayed indoors today. AAP insiders said he was extremely upset at the retreat last evening after the defiance in the morning.

“Arvindji was not ready to withdraw. But a majority of the top leaders prevailed on him that a retreat in the larger battle was not defeat. Even Mahatma Gandhi had to pull out many times,” a senior leader said. Party leaders spent over two hours at the Press Club convincing Kejriwal.

A debate has now started in the party on the gains and losses it has so far made. Sources said the opinion was mixed.

“The partial success of the protest following rebellion by a party MLA (Vinod Kumar Binny), chaos at the chief minister’s janata durbar and the controversy over midnight raids by ministers may have sent out the message that we are not mature enough to run the country,” an AAP leader said.”

Party sources said as far as Delhi was concerned, the general feeling was that Kejriwal’s confrontation with the Centre over the police would pay off in the election. If there was any law-and-order issue in the capital, the AAP would be able to shield itself as the people knew the police were not taking orders from the chief minister.

“What appears to be a partial success today might prove to be a turning point in the history of Delhi’s governance. This is just the beginning of delivering what he had promised,” said AAP leader Yogendra Yadav, who is learnt to have played a big role in convincing Kejriwal to withdraw.