‘BJP’s nasty attacks shows its nervousness’: On the road with Arvind Kejriwal
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‘BJP’s nasty attacks shows its nervousness’: On the road with Arvind Kejriwal

In the final leg of the Delhi election campaign, AAP is giving it back to the BJP for accusing the chief minister of being a ‘terrorist’.

By Ayan Sharma

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On Monday afternoon, as the clock ticked past 4.30 pm, Upendra Sharma began to curse. An advocate from Patparganj, he was navigating his car through a traffic jam just about 100 metres from Pocket B of Mayur Vihar Phase 2, where Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had just kicked off his roadshow.

Bristling with exasperation, Sharma, wearing an Aam Aadmi Party cap, honked and maneuvered his way to catch up with his favourite leader’s convoy.

Delhi votes in its Assembly election on February 8. The AAP has used its governance record as its election pitch, steering clear of the kerfuffle surrounding the citizenship law. In contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s scaremongering over Shaheen Bagh and other citizenship law protests has emerged as its renewed strategy ahead of the election.

The ongoing slanging match between the two parties is another source of Sharma’s anger. Earlier in the day, union minister and BJP leader Prakash Javadekar called Kejriwal a “terrorist” — repeating a similar insult thrown at Kejriwal by BJP leader Parvesh Varma on January 29. The repeated accusations, Sharma said, are an “insult” to AAP supporters like him.

“If someone is called a ‘terrorist’ for improving key sectors like education and health, then I don’t hesitate to support that ‘terrorist’,” he fumed. He said he’s never seen a chief minister as “honest and performing” as Kejriwal.

Meanwhile, the roadshow had progressed from its starting point. Proceeding down Ram Kumar Gautam Marg, the motorcade reached a crossroad and slowly turned right towards Khichripur Road. Kejriwal, flanked by his deputy Manish Sisodia on his right, waved from atop a van while hundreds of party workers and supporters gathered around.

The roadshow at starting at Mayur Vihar Phase 2.

One of them was Nizam Akhtar, who works in a furniture shop on Khichripur Road. Standing outside his shop, Akhtar looked on as the vehicles moved past. “I don’t see any competition before him [Kejriwal],” he remarked.

According to Akhtar, the AAP government’s performance when it comes to basic necessities like water, electricity and transportation puts it far ahead of other parties. “Plus, they will be rewarded for their initiatives to improve the government schools and hospitals,” he added.

But Akhtar, like Upendra Sharma, was upset with the language used recently by BJP leaders while campaigning. Elected members should maintain the dignity of their constitutional positions, he said. “Statements made by leaders like Anuragji and Parveshji exhibit poor taste,” he said.

Akhtar was referring to union minister Anurag Thakur’s statement that traitors should be “gunned down”. The Election Commission subsequently banned Thakur from campaigning for 72 hours. Parvesh Verma received a 96-hour ban for saying protesters at Shaheen Bagh were capable of “raping and killing” women.

Upendra Sharma.

But Akhtar doesn’t think issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens are relevant to the upcoming election.

“This is a state level election. Therefore, the focus should be on local issues,” he pointed out. “Why can’t the BJP talk about controlling inflation and creating jobs in Delhi?” Akhtar’s brother has been unemployed since mid-2018 after losing his job at a shoe factory in Peeragarhi, he said.

A couple of kilometres away in Kondli, a group of women sat on the steps of a tailoring shop, waiting for Kejriwal’s roadshow to arrive. The AAP had planned three roadshows in three constituencies in Delhi on Monday afternoon: Patparganj, Kondli, and Trilokpuri.

“The BJP only makes flowery speeches and does nothing,” said Bimla Pandey, a resident of Block 1 in Kondli colony. “The prices of essential commodities are going up while our incomes are stagnant. The central government has failed to fix these problems.”

According to her neighbors, Nandi Devi and Bishnu Devi Bisht, the BJP’s repeated references to Shaheen Bagh is an attempt to hide their failures. “Since they cannot talk about their work, they are trying to distract our attention,” said Bisht.

Nizam Akhtar.

As the women were speaking, a frenzy broke out about a hundred metres away. It was 6.30 pm and Kejriwal’s van had finally arrived. The waiting crowd rushed towards it as loudspeakers blared the party’s election anthem. Several supporters raised slogans and danced on the road.

Soon after, as the motorcade departed and the excitement subsided, a group of men began discussing the AAP’s performance and possibilities, and the prospects of the BJP and the Congress.

“The Congress is seeking votes in the name of late Sheila Dikshitji,” said Harun, who drives a school van. “But the party was rejected under her leadership seven years back.” He’s got a point — the Congress’s masterplan so far seems to be based on Dikshit’s “golden years”, when she served as Delhi’s chief minister for 15 years.

Avatar Singh, the oldest member of the group, chimed in. “Except for the AAP, no party has any agenda to offer,” he said. The BJP is simply trying to polarise voters, Singh accused, by invoking the CAA protests. “They are fighting the elections by communalising the atmosphere.”

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In December, the BJP lashed out against the AAP over the citizenship law protest in Delhi. On January 26, the criticism resurfaced, when Home Minister Amit Shah urged Delhi voters to “press the EVM button” with such anger that Shaheen Bagh protesters “feel the current”.

Ever since, the party’s star campaigners centred their speeches around Shaheen Bagh, claiming a direct link between the protest and the AAP. For example, on Monday, at a rally in West Delhi’s Vikaspuri, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said: “Why [is] a Pakistani minister…making statements in support of Arvind Kejriwal? Because he knows that only Kejriwal can feed biryani to protesters in Shaheen Bagh.”

Harun, at the Kondli roadshow.

While the Congress too has occasionally brought up the citizenship law protests, the AAP has mostly steered clear of the issue. On several occasions, Kejriwal has called the CAA and NRC “unwanted distractions” from pressing issues related to development and the economy. Jasmine Shah, a member of the AAP’s campaign team, had told Newslaundry that the party was focusing on development.

“We are just trying to tell people what all we have done for Delhi’s development and growth in the last five years and what we will do in the next five,” Shah had said during a conversation last week. “We are confident that the people will primarily vote on the agenda of good work.”

But with four days to go till polling day, the AAP’s now decided to take the battle head-on. Parvesh Verma’s “terrorist” comment has rankled the party. So, on January 31, the AAP launched a three-day door-to-door initiative. It urged voters to support Kejriwal if they believe he is “a son of Delhi”, or vote for the BJP if they feel he is a “terrorist”.

As part of this projection of Kejriwal as a dutiful son, the AAP has also amplified initiatives taken during Kejriwal’s tenure as chief minister. A key highlight is the AAP government’s scheme of donating Rs 1 crore to the families of martyrs in Delhi. On February 2, a video was tweeted from Kejriwal’s Twitter handle with the caption: “My dear Delhiites, your son is not a terrorist. Give an answer to the BJP on February 8.”

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In Trilokpuri on Monday evening, Kejriwal’s third and final roadshow for the day finally drew to a close. Party workers in attendance told Newslaundry that it’s important for the AAP to counter the BJP’s claims.

“The BJP’s nasty attacks on Kejriwal shows its nervousness ahead of the polls,” said Jagdeep Prasad, a local from Trilokpuri who volunteers for the AAP. “Yet, we cannot sit silent over these accusations. So, to counter their charges, we are promoting him [Kejriwal] as a responsible son committed to the welfare of Delhi.”

The roadshow at Kondli.

His party colleague, Krishan Choutala, a retired central government employee from Burari, admitted that the narrative had somewhat changed in the last few days. “We can’t say Shaheen Bagh will not play any role in the election now,” he said.

Prasad and Choutala said the AAP has figured out about 10 constituencies where the citizenship law issue might polarise the electorate and affect their chances of winning. Gandhi Nagar, Seelampur, Mongolpuri and Kondli were among the seats where the party would have to put in more effort, they said.

In a press meet on Monday, Sanjay Singh, the AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP and election in-charge, said the party would hold 15,000 meetings over the next three days. From Tuesday, about 5,000 volunteers will individually reach out to voters across the city, he added.

Choutala will be among the thousands of AAP volunteers who will make the final push in the last leg of campaigning. “Now, our message will emphasise on good governance as well as the BJP’s smear campaign against Kejriwalji,” he said.

Newslaundry
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