The BJP had on late Saturday 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. It is a very big challenge... I am ready to accept this challenge,” Kejriwal told a rally at Bengaluru’s Freedom Park.
“While I am ready to take the challenge I would ask the people of Varanasi if they want me to fight election from there.” This could be on March 23 when he visits the eastern Uttar Pradesh city. Polling for the Varanasi seat will be held on May 12, four days before votes are counted, in the final round of the nine-phase elections that kick off on April 7.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will now have to call a meeting of its political affairs committee and review the decision barring an MLA— the party has 27 of them including Kejriwal — from contesting the Lok Sabha elections. “The review will be done soon to make way for Kejriwal’s candidature,” party spokesperson Deepak Vajpayee said in New Delhi.
Kejriwal is an MLA from the New Delhi constituency for which he beat three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit in a stunning poll debut for him and his rookie party. The Delhi assembly is under suspended animation after Kejriwal quit on February 14 barely 49 days into power.
Kejriwal hasn’t been known to shy away from taking political risks. But hardly anyone within AAP, for now, expects him to win over his new constituents. The Kejriwal versus Modi contest will invariably become a big story till the Lok Sabha polls end. Win or lose, this plays out perfectly for the AAP, after its stunning performance in the Delhi assembly polls.
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.
The party was keen to pit Kejriwal against Modi in a repeat of Delhi but outside Gujarat, a party leader said. “We wanted him to take on Modi only if he contested from outside Gujarat so that the Gujarat CM would not have the language advantage,” the leader said.
"We hear he is looking for a safe seat. Why does he want a safe seat? We need a bold PM, not one who looks for a safe seat."
Kejriwal had set the tone for the tantalising contest through a tweet at 12.15pm.
Many people asking me - "will i contest against Modi ji?" I will talk on this issue in today's rally at Bangalore— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 16, 2014
Challenging Modi's claims of developing Gujarat economically, Kejriwal dished out facts and figures to show that this was not true and that Modi had spread "white lies".
He said that contrary to claims, corruption was rampant in Gujarat and 800 farmers had committed suicide in Gujarat since Modi took power in 2001.
Modi, he said, stood for "crony capitalism" and that some 60,000 small scale and medium scale industries had closed down in Gujarat during Modi's rule.
Kejriwal’s big announcement came following his Saturday fund-raising dinner in the Bangalore that brought the AAP Rs 50 lakh.
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 Delhi chief minister, 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.
More is to come. AAP plans to releases video clips that it says will “bust” the “Modi myth”. The recordings, made during Kejriwal’s Gujarat visit, cover a range of issues from alleged land-grab to “industrial pollution”, said sources.
Pre-recorded messages from Kejriwal – through mobile phones and radio -- that will question Gujarat development model, attack Modi and extol AAP’s Delhi stint are to be launched soon.
(With agency inputs)
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