In what will be the mother of all battles in the coming election, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal announced Tuesday he will take on BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi from this Hindu holy city.
In an hour-long speech at the Beniyabagh ground where thousands cheered him, many waving the party symbol broom, Kejriwal asked people to “unleash a revolution” by ensuring the defeat of both Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who he described as two sides of the same coin.
Having faced hostile crowds of Modi supporters after his arrival here in the morning, Kejriwal asked aloud at the rally if he should battle the Lok Sabha election from this city or not. As the crowds responded with a roaring “yes”, Kejriwal, who was Delhi chief minister for 49 days, declared in what was clearly a scripted answer that he was ready to accept the electoral challenge.
“I am ready to fight elections from Varanasi,” said Kejriwal, wearing his traditional white cap printed with the AAP’s election symbol broom and his shirt still stained with ink hurled at him only hours earlier.
As a party activist garlanded Kejriwal amid cheering and clapping, Kejriwal dubbed Modi’s development agenda in Gujarat as a “farce” and called upon Modi to engage with him in a public debate.
He accused Modi of befriending tainted politicians in his desperation to become the prime minister, and reiterated that Modi was closely linked to corporate houses who heavily funded him and had vested interest in seeing him elected.
“Congressmen are leaving the Congress and joining the BJP,” he said. “Then what is the difference between the two parties?”
An income tax officer-turned-activist-turned-politician, Kejriwal said people were sick and tired of 10 years of Congress-led UPA rule and called for the defeat of both the UPA and the BJP-led NDA coalitions. “We should defeat both the UPA and the NDA and there should be new kind of politics (in this country).” He described the coming election as a game-changer in the nation’s history.
He underlined how his colleague Kumar Vishwas had taken on Gandhi in Amethi, also in Uttar Pradesh. “If we defeat the two of them, there will be a political earthquake.” According to him, this might lead to political instability but it would lead to another election within one year when honest Indians would be able to get elected to parliament.
Asking people to take a month’s leave and reach Amethi and Varanasi to campaign against Gandhi and Modi, Kejriwal sought financial assistance to fight his battle against Modi. “I don’t have money,” he said, holding a hand-held mike. “Just as Madan Mohan Malaviya collected one rupee each as donation from people to set up the Banaras Hindu University, I too will come to collect money.”
Kejriwal, however, underscored he had no personal enmity with Modi or Gandhi or for that matter with any political leader. “This is not an election of Varanasi… This is to decide what will happen to India, what kind of country we want.”
Earlier, soon after his arrival in Varanasi, Kejriwal told a television channel: “I don’t see Banaras as a losing battle. I will defeat Modi.”
Eggs were thrown at his car when Kejriwal visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple, with the protestors raising anti-Kejriwal slogans and asking him to leave Varanasi.
Calling him a “traitor”, hundreds of slogan-shouting people blocked his cavalcade while keeping a steady chant of “Modi! Modi!”
Later, as Kejriwal proceeded towards the rally in an open vehicle, ink was thrown at him. It stained his face and clothes and those of other party leaders.
The culprit was identified as a member of the ultra-right Hindu Vahini Sena. Some people waved black flags.
The unfazed AAP leader began his visit to Varanasi, where hundreds of his supporters have been campaigning for weeks, with visits to prominent temples and a dip in the Ganges.