Arvind Kejriwal grabs a sweet gift from Modi
A man with a loudhailer moves through the crowd at Arvind Kejriwal’s rally in Somnath, Gujarat. “Rewri le liyo bhai, rewri,” he cries.
It’s an attempt by the Aam Aadmi Party to own the “rewri” jibe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made last month in Uttar Pradesh.
The rewri is a sweet made from jaggery and sesame seeds, and the word is often used as a euphemism for a worthless sop. Modi had used the term while fulminating against the politics of freebies.
“Today in our country, attempts are being made to collect votes by distributing free rewris,” the Prime Minister had said.
At the AAP rally on Monday, the party’s Gujarat unit vice-president and local candidate Jagmal Vala, who is on the dais, asks the mock rewri seller who he is. He replies he is Kejriwal, who has come with the rewris of healthcare, schools, free pilgrimages and freedom from corruption.
Kejriwal tells the rally: “I want to ask the people of the country whether all the rewris should go into the pockets of the people or to Swiss banks…. Governments don’t incur losses because they give free facilities to the public; they go into debt when leaders steal from the exchequer.”
Campaigning for the Gujarat Assembly elections, due in December, the AAP has cited a hooch tragedy that claimed 42 lives in the BJP-ruled state last week as an example of what flawed policies and corruption may lead to.
The party has promised a waiver of electricity bills incurred till December 31 last year and 300 units free per month to every consumer from then on, a million new jobs, and a monthly unemployment dole of Rs 3,000, if elected.
Earlier this year, the Kejriwal-led Delhi government proposed a jobless dole of up to Rs 7,500 a month, which is in the works.
Last year, the Centre amended the law on the governance of Delhi, heavily tilting the balance of power in favour of the lieutenant governor.
Kejriwal has been left mostly alone in the Gujarat campaign with lieutenant governor V.K. Saxena — a technocrat who had worked in Gujarat — having taken the AAP government here to task across departments and having requested a CBI probe into the capital’s liquor policy, which has been rolled back. Kejriwal’s deputy Manish Sisodia is handling the pressure in Delhi.
Kejriwal has publicly expressed fear that Sisodia may be arrested by the CBI, although he has avoided the protests and physical confrontations that he had had with Saxena’s predecessors.
The chief minister last week went to the extent of saying: “There can be differences of opinion on various matters but there is no fallout between us (Saxena and himself).”
AAP parliamentarian and Gujarat-in-charge Sandeep Pathak told The Telegraph: “What is happening in Delhi is not right…. This shows they are scared of Arvind Kejriwal…. But the public is wise and they are with us. These actions will backfire (on the BJP).”
Pathak, who taught at IIT Delhi, was a key strategist behind the AAP’s sweep of the Punjab Assembly polls earlier this year.
“Social welfare is the foundation of any developed country. Investments in welfare bring many benefits. This is prasad (devotional offering) that every government should offer,” he said.
This clash of ideas has gained traction on social media, with many influencers commenting on the absence of the Congress — the principal Opposition in Gujarat — from the battle.
Eminent Gujarati sociologist Achyut Yagnik said that despite the spectacle, the AAP remained confined to south Gujarat and the Congress continued to be the main Opposition while the BJP, the party of governance, hardly faced a threat from either.
“Freebies are not a significant factor. Hindutvaisation here is far deeper than in other states, particularly among the middle class,” he said.
“This is even promoted by different sects within Hinduism…. The fight remains between the BJP and the Congress, and under the current conditions it is unlikely that the Congress will recapture power (which it last held in 1995).”
Mindful of this, Kejriwal has made a public show of participating in rituals at the Somnath Temple, and before Rajkot’s Rudraksha Shivalinga, over the past week.
The first list of 10 candidates the party announced on Tuesday contains no religious minorities. The AAP has been protesting on the streets and in Parliament whenever a temple has faced the threat of demolition from the authorities anywhere, most recently in Gujarat’s Navsari.
Asked about the relevance of sops in a trade-oriented state, Pathak replied: “The BJP is in power because of the bipolar polity with a Congress that has no will, vision or leader to fight. The state of hospitals and government schools is miserable, and Gujarat has some of the lowest minimum wages in India.”
Support for Alva
The AAP’s highest executive body, the political affairs committee, on Wednesday resolved to support Congress veteran Margaret Alva’s candidature for Vice-President. The AAP had supported Yashwant Sinha for President.
The August 6 contest for Vice-President is being seen largely as a token fight as the numbers are stacked in favour of NDA candidate and former Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. The AAP has 10 MPs, all in the Rajya Sabha.