The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 26 , 2014
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After dip, devotion and egg, ready for Modi

Arvind Kejriwal wipes off black ink thrown on him by protesters during a roadshow in Varanasi on Tuesday
The Aam Aadmi Party leader starts the day with a dip in the Ganga at Rajghat
Then he heads to Kaal Bhairav temple, before starting the roadshow
A Muslim leader offers Kejriwal a cap at a rally. Pictures by Anand Singh and PTI

Varanasi, March 25: Arvind Kejriwal today declared he was “ready” to take on Narendra Modi from the holy city after a series of symbolic gestures that included a dip in the Ganga, prayers at temples and halting his speech for the evening azaan.

The Aam Aadmi Party leader also ran into egg-pitchers and ink-throwers, some of whom were shouting “Modi, Modi”.

An egg landed on his car as he emerged from a temple while protesters shouting “go back” threw ink at him and his supporters before they reached the rally ground in minority hub Beniabad where Kejriwal announced his candidature.

“I am ready to accept this challenge,” Kejriwal said after the crowd of AAP supporters and workers raised their hands to his question: “Should I contest from Varanasi against Narendra Modi?”

The declaration came at the “Jansamarthan” (public support) rally for which the party had mobilised volunteers not only from Uttar Pradesh but across the country.

Before he threw his hat into the ring, Kejriwal sought to give a twist to the upcoming battle, aware that voters may not take his call to defeat the Congress and the BJP seriously, given the AAP’s strength.

“The UPA and the NDA are two armies. The shahenshah of the first is Rahul Gandhi and (that of) the other is Narendra Modi. If we defeat the two shahenshahs, their armies will collapse,” Kejriwal declared.

Is baar Rahul aur Modi ko harana hai. (This time you have to defeat both Rahul and Modi.) In this election, only Amethi (the Congress vice-president’s constituency) and Varanasi will decide everything,” he said before going on to assert why “another election” could bring stability.

“What is this stability? Once the two are defeated, there will be another election in one year and then the country will get a stable and good government,” Kejriwal said.

Sources said the assertion that Amethi and Varanasi would determine the fate of the Lok Sabha elections was aimed at livening up the contest as Kejriwal had sensed that voters in Varanasi might feel that his new party was only trying to play spoiler.

The AAP boss appears to have read the pulse right. “Even if Kejriwal defeats Modi, he does not have the strength to form a government. Why should people waste their vote on Kejriwal?” said Birju Jaiswal, who runs a hotel.

It seemed to be the common refrain in Varanasi, which votes on May 12.

Kejriwal said he had come here to fight Modi as the BJP mascot’s development claims in Gujarat was a hoax propagated by a section of the media. If Modi comes to power, farmers’ land will be forcibly given to big companies and the masses will reel under price rise, he said. “Yeh desh nahi bachega (this country will not exist),” he said.

Kejriwal challenged Modi to debate Gujarat’s development with him before the people of Varanasi. “If he runs away from the debate, then there is something wrong and he wants to hide,” he said.

He sought donations from the people, saying he didn’t have the money to take on Modi. “I am ready to accept this challenge but I don’t have money to contest the elections. I will come to you for donations,” he said comparing his effort with that of educationist and politician Madan Mohan Malviya, who raised donations to set up the Banaras Hindu University.

He also asked his supporters to take a month’s leave from their jobs and work for the AAP in Amethi and Varanasi if they wanted to change the fate of the country.

Kejriwal, who arrived by train from Delhi this morning, did what seasoned politicians do: engage in an elaborate political symbolism to send the correct message.

His first stop was the Ganga ghat where he took a dip before hopping from one temple to another — the Kal Bhairav mandir, the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the Sankat Mochan temple.

At each of these shrines he emerged with his forehead smeared, reflecting the picture of a devout Hindu.

The anti-AAP protesters followed him wherever Kejriwal went. The egg landed on his car as he came out of the Kashi temple. Some shouted “Modi… Modi” and “Kejriwal wapas jao (go back)”. Finally, they threw ink at him and other AAP leaders proceeded to the rally ground.

The protesters didn’t carry any party flags. At some places they called themselves the “aam aadmi army”, at others “Modi army”. Kejriwal said the protesters had been “hired” by the BJP’s Prime Minister candidate.

If the protesters tried to mask their identity, Kejriwal played to the gallery with religious and revolutionary slogans like “Har, Har Mahadev” and “Inquilab Zindabad”.

BJP supporters here had been raising the slogan “Har, Har Modi”. It had led to criticism from religious groups, which said Modi couldn’t be worshipped like Lord Shiva.

The Gujarat leader has asked his supporters not to raise the slogan.

Kejriwal also sought to reach out to Muslim voters. He stopped his speech as the strains of the evening azaan rose from a mosque near the rally ground.

Thoda rukh jaaiye…. azaan ho raha hai,” he said.

He resumed after the call from the mosque was over. The minority community accounts for a sizeable chunk of the population in this communally sensitive city.