Varanasi: Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal arrived by train this morning at Varanasi, to a big welcome from supporters and many posters accusing him of being a “bhagoda or deserter,” an apparent reference to his having resigned as Delhi chief minister within 49 days of taking office earlier this year.
Mr Kejriwal had resigned in February when the Congress and BJP stalled his effort to push an anti-graft bill in the Delhi assembly. His political rivals accuse him of abdicating in haste to pursue a national political agenda.
AAP supporters were spotted removing many of the posters as Mr Kejriwal arrived with his family to begin his campaign in Varanasi, where he has challenged the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to what is seen as one of the top contests in this general election.
An advance party of senior AAP leaders like Sanjay Singh and Manish Sisodia has already been camped in the Uttar Pradesh temple town to prep for their party chief’s tour.
Mr Kejriwal had last visited the city three weeks ago and announced his candidacy. Then, protestors had thrown black ink and even an egg at him.
Varanasi has been the most closely watched constituency in these elections ever since the BJP shrugged off some internal strife to announce that it would field Mr Modi from here. The contest was given another twist last week with Quami Ekta Dal leader Mukhtar Ansari withdrawing from the race, to “strengthen secular forces and avoid division of votes”.
The AAP will hope that his withdrawal will mean direct benefit for Mr Kejriwal. Mr Ansari, as a BSP candidate, had come in a close second in 2009 behind the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi.
The Congress has fielded local leader Ajai Rai in Varanasi, and has appealed to other parties to help him battle Mr Modi.
Yesterday, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the daughter of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, denied a newspaper report that there was a proposal that she contest against Mr Modi in Varanasi.
Varanasi votes in the last of the 10 phases, on May 12. Candidates have to file their nominations latest by April 24 and can withdraw by April 28.