Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal set up a spectacular poll battle on Tuesday by declaring he would take on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee, Narendra Modi, from Varanasi in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. He also challenged Modi to a political debate in Varanasi.
“I challenge Modiji to a debate here in this ground. If he doesn’t come, then understand, something is wrong,” he said, once again questioning Gujarat’s development model. In his almost hour-long speech, Kejriwal asked people to “turn this election into a revolution and defeat both the BJP and Congress”.
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The AAP leader announced his decision at a public rally at which he sought support from the attendants for taking on the BJP strongman. The crowd at his rally erupted in affirmative cheer as he asked them: "Do you want me to contest against Modi from Varanasi."
“I am ready to challenge Modi with the support of the people. I do not have any money. You will have to donate money to me. I request you to help me financially like Madan Mohan Malaviya was helped when he wanted to build the Banaras Hindu University,” Kejriwal said after seeking the opinion of the people.
“If Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi are defeated in their constituencies, there will be a huge political shake-up. We have to defeat the Congress and the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections to bring positive change in the country,” he said.
The former Delhi chief minister also renewed his attack on Mukesh Ambani and Adanis as he claimed they sponsored Modi and Congress vice-president Gandhi’s travel across the country. “These industrialists control the country through their grip on the BJP and the Congress.” He said the nexus between the two parties needed to be broken.
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Kejriwal vowed to defeat Modi and attacked his claims of development in Gujarat, saying the BJP’s PM nominee would spell trouble for the people of the country if voted to power.
The AAP leader earlier arrived in Varanasi amid hostility from Modi's supporters that triggered an ink attack.
"I don't see Banaras as a losing battle. I will defeat Modi in the Lok Sabha election,” Kejriwal told a television channel, shortly after reaching Varanasi by train from New Delhi.
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Eggs were also thrown at his car outside the Kashi Vishwanath temple, with the protestors steadily raising anti-Kejriwal slogans and asking him to leave the Hindu holy city.
Calling him a "traitor", hundreds of slogan-shouting people blocked his cavalcade while keeping up a steady chant of "Modi! Modi!".
Security personnel had a tough time controlling the crowd. The demonstrators said they wanted only Modi to contest the Lok Sabha battle from Varanasi.
Later, as Kejriwal proceeded towards the rally ground in an open vehicle ringed by hundreds of supporters, ink was thrown at him.
The ink stained his face and clothes and also those of his party leaders Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh.
The man who threw the ink was identified as Ambrish, said to be a member of the Hindu Vahini Sena. Police whisked him away. All through the route, many waved black flags and raised anti-AAP slogans.
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Earlier, Kejriwal took a dip in the Ganges. His forehead was smeared with sandalwood paste as he came out of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, a Varanasi landmark.
Kejriwal added: "I prayed to god to give me the strength to fight and save the country."
Kejriwal supporters in hundreds have been campaigning for him for days in Varanasi.
The BJP had on March 15 named Modi as its Varanasi candidate putting to rest speculation and squabbling over the seat which is held by party veteran Murli Manohar Joshi who has been moved to Kanpur.
“The party had urged me to contest against Narendra Modi, and I accept the challenge,” Kejriwal told a rally at Bengaluru’s Freedom Park on March 16. “While I am ready to take the challenge I would ask the people of Varanasi if they want me to fight election from there,” he had said.
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Kejriwal hasn’t been known to shy away from taking political risks. But hardly anyone within the AAP, for now, expects him to win over his new constituents. The Kejriwal-Modi face-off will admittedly be big on political messaging, but the battle for Varanasi would be fought outside the constituency – at rallies that both leaders address across the country over the next two months.
“It is unlikely that Kejriwal is going to be able to campaign in Varanasi as he did in Delhi,” a party leader said, pointing that AAP’s most prominent face hadn’t even had the time to campaign in Delhi so far.
AAP has been preparing for the high-profile battle. In the last few weeks, the party, which took on the Congress on corruption in Delhi, has been targeting Modi over his “close ties” with certain industrialists.
Launching AAP’s Lok Sabha campaign a week after he quit as CM, Kejriwal tore into the Gujarat strongman at a rally in Rohtak on February 23, dubbing him an agent of Reliance Industries. Two weeks later, he took on the CM in his home state. Addressing a rally in Ahmedabad on March 8, Kejriwal called Modi a property dealer.
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Highlights of Kejriwal's Varanasi rally