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IIT alumnus Gopal Mohan managed Arvind Kejriwal's poll campaign when the AAP leader defeated Delhi's three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit by 26,000 votes last year. Mohan, 29, is now managing Kejriwal's campaign in Varanasi. He tells Hindustan Times that the Varanasi challenge is "much bigger" but the party is confident that Kejriwal can defeat BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in the temple town. Excerpts from an interview:
How difficult is this assignment compared to what you had to do in Delhi?
This is certainly a tougher battle. In Delhi, we had time to plan the whole campaigning--we had presence in Delhi. People knew us because of the Janlokpal movement and our protests over inflated electricity and water bills. It was a more urban setting. People could see us forming the government.
So what are your chances in Varanasi?
Very good. When we started our campaign, we were trailing behind BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi by two lakh votes. On Wednesday (April 16), our door-to-door campaign reached 80,000 of the 3.14 lakh houses in Varanasi and then we felt the margin had come down to 50,000. Today (Monday), we have reached 1.7 lakh houses and have reasons to believe that we're ahead by 50,000 votes. Our survey shows a large number of people do not like Modi. We need to win them over.
Is it all that simple?
About 1,500 persons are involved in door-to-door campaigning. It's all very scientific. All people may not be in our favour, but most of those we're visiting showing signs of support. It's a challenge to get Modi's supporters on our side. I was spot on with the margin in New Delhi. I'm sure my reading doesn't go haywire this time as well.
Compared to New Delhi, Varanasi is a much bigger place...
Yes, it is and we're dealing with it accordingly. There are five--three urban and two rural--assembly segments in Varanasi parliamentary constituency. Five persons have been given the job of winning them for us. They are Manish Sisodia, Dileep Pandey, Durgesh Pathak, Kapil Mishra and Gulab Singh. About 14 MLA candidates who successfully or otherwise contested the 2013 assembly elections in Delhi are here. So are many of our Delhi's campaign managers.
What's AAP's main strategy?
There are many. Campaigning has got aggressive. Kejriwal is essentially focusing on ( street) corner meetings and padyatras. Unlike other party candidates, he is also taking questions and responding to people. During the last five days of campaigning, he will do road shows and address big gathering. We hope Modi may not be able to spend much time in Varanasi because of his packed campaign schedule. This will help Kejriwal establish closer contact with locals.
What are AAP's strengths?
Our main strength is our 10,000 local volunteers. About 3,000 have registered themselves to come here from outside. We're also getting volunteers from Gujarat. When people in Varanasi hear the truth of Gujarat from the people of Gujarat, they would know the real Modi.
What are the major constraints?
We're a tad slow in door-to-door campaigning. By now we should have completed the first round. Our actual target is to be at each household at least thrice. Our budget does not allow us for big outdoor publicity campaign. We will be spending Rs 25 lakh-Rs 30 lakh. Unlike Delhi, there are only five auto-rickshaws campaigning for AAP. It's very difficult to get permission from the administration.