(Clockwise from left) Tricolour in hand, Aam Aadmi Party leader Kumar Vishwas addresses a rally in Amethi on Sunday; a NaMo tea stall put up by the rival BJP near the venue, where “corruption-free” tea was served to the people; a Congress protester waves a black flag at the rally. Pictures by JP Yadav and PTI
Amethi, Jan. 12: The “broom” may or may not sweep Amethi but trust its rivals to bristle at the mere mention of a clean-up in the old order.
Black flags, hostile slogans and even stones greeted Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Kumar Vishwas when he went to address his party’s first rally in the Gandhi family backyard today.
As if the lethal concoction was not enough, his supporters had to digest another unpalatable brew: the BJP’s “corruption-free NaMo tea”.
None of that appeared to have scared off Vishwas, who has declared he would take on Rahul Gandhi in his constituency and dared Narendra Modi to the arena too.
“Congress ke logon, andon, dando aur gundon se hum darne wale nahi hai… Hum mare ya jiye, Amethi se jaane wale nahi hain (Congress supporters, I will not be scared by eggs, sticks and goons… whether I live or die, I will not leave Amethi),” Vishwas, a poet known for Bollywood-style catchlines, thundered.
The cheers echoed from the crowd, a modest gathering of around five thousand on the dusty Ramlila ground. But the rally and the protests appeared to have fulfilled an immediate goal — generate a buzz for Vishwas.
Unlike his party boss and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who had partly travelled to his swearing-in last month in a Metro train, Vishwas swept into Amethi in heartland style in a cavalcade of over 50 vehicles from Lucknow, 130km away.
Many in the audience had come from other areas, such as Kanpur and Mau, 150-200km from Amethi, prompting some to suggest the AAP had some distance to go before it could amass poll-time crowds of 15,000 to 20,000 at Gandhi family rallies.
“This is their (the AAP’s) first meeting here. Let’s see what they do in the days to come,” said Anand Mishra, a local youth.
Vishwas used his speech to project the likely contest with Rahul as a “David vs Goliath” battle, saying a commoner like him had come to challenge a “prince”.
“Congress leaders have termed me a joker. But I want to tell them that a joker is better than a prince. A joker relieves the pain of the people. A joker does not gobble up coal and sell the country,” Vishwas said, alluding to the coal block probe and allegations of corruption against the Congress.
The Uttar Pradesh-born Vishwas pitched himself as a “Brahmin true to his word”, seeking to focus on his origins in the state’s caste-dominated politics.
But long before the AAP leader reached the rally venue and began his speech, he had a glimpse of the obstacles. In Jagdishpur, 50km before Amethi, eggs, tomatoes and black paint were thrown at his convoy. Mobs nearby raised slogans protesting a poem by Vishwas that was allegedly insensitive towards the minority community.
Yesterday, a youth had hurled an egg during a news conference addressed by Vishwas in Lucknow over the same reason, but the leader had escaped. Vishwas apologised today. “I apologise if I have hurt religious sentiments.”
The second protest on way to Amethi was at Gauriganj, 12km before the destination, where groups holding Congress flags chanted “Kumar Vishwas wapas jao (Kumar Vishwas, go back)”. Vishwas’s party colleagues claimed even stones were hurled here at a bus carrying supporters.
In Amethi, some Congress activists burnt the “broom”, the AAP’s election symbol. They shouted slogans saying he was an outsider.
The protests didn’t stop even at the rally. Some youths in the crowd waved black flags as Vishwas spoke.
The BJP chose to pitch prime ministerial candidate Modi in the charged atmosphere, setting up two “Namo stalls” selling bhrashtachar-mukt chai (corruption-free tea) without any charge. Posters of Modi — who rarely misses a chance to dwell on his days as a tea vendor when he was a boy — adorned the outlets. Local BJP leaders said the move was part of the party’s “Mission 272” (Lok Sabha seats).
“From 7am till now (3.30pm) we have served this corruption-free tea to over 1,400 people. People who took our tea promised to vote to make Narendra Modi the Prime Minister and ensure a corruption-free India,” said Vishnu Mishra, a BJP leader.
Both the protests by Congress supporters and the BJP’s free tea were seen as a sign of the recent worries in the two parties at the entry of the rookie AAP into the heartland state that is home to 80 Lok Sabha seats.
Vishwas appeared to play on this theme when he said he had come to Amethi to challenge “corruption and dynastic politics”. He pointed out how the Congress and the BJP had not put up any candidate against Mulayam Singh Yadav’s daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav and the Samajwadi Party’s move not to field a nominee in Amethi and Sonia Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency Rae Bareli.
“They all protect each other’s dynasty,” Vishwas remarked and urged the people not to elect a “prince” this time and give the opportunity to a “servant” who would serve them.
The AAP leader accused Rahul of having failed the people of Amethi and claimed the Gandhi scion had not asked a single question in the Lok Sabha in the past 10 years.
Some agreed with Vishwas. “Rahul Gandhi ko ekbar haarna chahiye, (Rahul Gandhi should be defeated once),” said tea stall owner Junaid Akhtar at Jais, a village on the road to Rae Bareli from Amethi. Akhtar said he wanted to go for the AAP rally but had no one to take care of his shop.
Amethi physician J.L. Jain said Rahul had brought a lot of development but the people wanted more.