New entrant to electoral politics is putting up a formidable challenge to established parties in New Delhi.
Arvind Kejriwal, the corruption-crusader turned politician and leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is probably fighting the toughest electoral battle of his life.
The AAP leader, who is contesting from northern Indian city of Varanasi, is pitted against Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.
Kejriwal came to national prominence when he defeated Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in assembly elections last December. His nearly two-year-old AAP party came to power, but Kejriwal quit after 49 days.
The 45-year-old leader’s contest against Modi is being seen as a David versus Goliath fight, as the holy city is considered a bastion of the BJP.
In a freewheeling interview with Al Jazeera, Kejriwal insists that Modi’s election to power will not only harm India’s secular fabric at home but also its image overseas. Excerpts:
Al Jazeera: When you first came to Varanasi, the crowd turned hostile, but you continued campaigning. Is there a change in people’s attitude now?
Arvind Kejriwal: I am seeing great enthusiasm amongst the people of Varanasi every time I am out on the roads to meet them. The eagerness of the people to shake hands with me has increased. Many climb rooftops to watch me address the gatherings and they even record my speeches.
AJ: What are your speeches mostly on?
AK: I tell them that Modi never comes to meet a common man. I tell them that they can never shake hands with him (Modi). Same goes with Murli Manohar Joshi (winner in 2009). Both the BJP leaders never see the locals of Varanasi. To tackle local issues, one needs to spend time in the city that one is contesting from.
So, when a leader does not meet his voters before elections, what is the guarantee the leader will see them after winning the elections.
AJ: You outdid Modi in the Time magazine survey, to emerge as the top most influential person in the world? How is the feeling like?
AK: It feels good but I care more about the love of people that I am getting on the roads than focusing on surveys. These days, my focus is more on the Varanasi and its issues.
AJ: Some Indian intellectuals are warning against the rise of Modi. The negative voting in the Time magazine survey also shows fear of people overseas? How do you read it?
AK: Narendra Modi is not only a threat to the secular fabric of India but also to the country’s international image. His rhetoric on Pakistan, Bangladesh and China are just few examples.
AJ: Why are you contesting against Modi? You could have chosen any other constituency with less competition?
AK: I am contesting because Modi has sold Gujarat to the industrialists. About 14,500 acres (56.65 sq km) of land have been sold to Adani group at the rate of one rupee per metre by snatching it from farmers. I have the documents to prove.
And about 5,872 farmers committed suicide in Gujarat state (in the last 10 years). India’s first Walmart showroom, which caused shutting down of smaller shops has been opened at Anand district of Gujarat. I have also the documents that show how gas price is being manipulated by corporates. AAP lodged an FIR, till date no one has dared to do so against a big corporate.
From April 1, the gas price was about to increase, and I wrote to Manmohan Singh (Prime Minister of India) to stop it. We insisted that it will hurt common man the most, but the prime minister did not reply.
Both Modi and (the ruling Congress party leader) Rahul Gandhi are agents of the corporates. So while Kumar Vishwas is contesting against Rahul, I am contesting against Modi. And both of them are going to lose.