The Telegraph
Tuesday , March 18 , 2014
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Arvind leaves Varanasi decision to people

New Delhi, March 17: Arvind Kejriwal has declared he is ready to take on Narendra Modi by contesting the election from Varanasi if people asked him to do so, seizing his chance to gain maximum publicity from a battle where he has little to lose.

“The party has asked me to fight against Modi. I’m not here to win or lose. I will go to Varanasi on March 23 and hold a rally. If people ask me to fight, I’ll fight,” Kejriwal told a rally in Bangalore on Sunday.

Aam Aadmi Party sources, however, said an announcement of Kejriwal’s candidature from Varanasi was just a matter of time.

Kejriwal’s statement, coming a day after Modi’s nomination from Varanasi was announced, underlines two of his party’s favourite themes. One, David vs Goliath electoral contests that generate massive interest and two, seeking the opinion of the “common man” before taking key decisions.

Kejriwal had defeated three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit in last winter’s Assembly polls, and several of his party colleagues too had trounced their veteran Congress opponents. The party appears keen to continue with the strategy.

Aam Aadmi Party leaders know well that Kejriwal has nothing to lose politically even if Modi defeats him.

“He has already emerged as the face of the party. He can return to focus on Delhi,” one party leader said.

Aam Aadmi Party sources acknowledged that their chief’s recent visit to Gujarat to challenge Modi’s development claims was aimed at preparing the ground for an electoral battle.

“Arvind went to Gujarat to challenge the lion in his den and now that the lion has been drawn out, he will surely be challenged,” an Aam Aadmi Party leader said.

Till this weekend, Aam Aadmi Party leaders were daring the BJP prime ministerial candidate to step out of his “den” in Gujarat and contest the elections from elsewhere.

Yesterday, Kejriwal asked Modi to be brave and not contest from more than one seat. There has been a buzz about Modi contesting from a Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat too, apart from Varanasi.

“People want a brave PM, not one who contests from a safe seat. The people of this country will question his (Modi’s) intentions (if he contests from two seats),” Kejriwal said.

Aam Aadmi Party managers feel that Kejriwal’s dare to Modi would generate a stir and boost the morale of party volunteers. It could also generate more funds for the party, which wants to contest from 300-plus Lok Sabha seats.

Privately, Kejriwal and most of his party colleagues feel that there is indeed a “pro-Modi undercurrent” in the country. Their goal is to meet the challenge head-on and emerge as the principal Opposition, replacing the Congress.

To this end, Kejriwal has focused his attacks on Modi and the BJP, increasingly ignoring the Congress. His party wants to generate a perception that the Congress is not in a position to challenge Modi.

The rookie party wants to use the momentum generated by the Delhi victory to try and win at least 10 Lok Sabha seats, achieve a vote share that will bring it closer to “national party” status, and build party structures across the country.