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'Modi hasn't taken a dip in the Ganga... How can he clean it?'

May 08, 2014 14:37 IST

'People of Varanasi gather from rooftops to watch me'

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Shahnawaz Akhtar

'Next time a BJP supporter asks you to vote for the BJP with the promise of Modi working wonders, just ask them if they have met Modi? Did they ever get to meet Modi, shake hands with him? Modi comes by helicopter and says he will clean the Ganga. How can anybody who hasn't taken a dip in the Ganga even know how dirty the water is?'

Shahnawaz Akhtar accompanies Arvind Kejriwal on a day's campaign in Varanasi.

Arvind Kejriwal, the founder of the Aam Aadmi Party, is unstoppable; his spirit indefatigable.

Be it the eggs hurled at him, the ink flung at him, the physical attacks or the abuses in Varanasi, nothing has deterred him.

And 44 days into his campaign, one can see he has emerged a serious contender against the front-runner, Narendra Modi, in Monday's election.

Kejriwal has embarked on a blitzkrieg of rallies -- visiting village after village, organising nukkad sabhas (roadside meetings), spending time with voters, sharing views. I followed Kejriwal from Rohaniya Chowrah to find out how voters react to the AAP leader and his campaign style.

Has he seen a change in voters's attitudes towards him, I asked Kejriwal at the start of our journey. "You can see it yourself. There is great enthusiasm among the people. They want to shake my hand, they gather from rooftops to watch my meetings, some even record my speeches."

My day with Kejriwal was sparse of conversation as he remained busy with seven to eight meetings, giving all his time to the voters of Varanasi.

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Image: Arvind Kejriwal addresses voters at Rohaniya Chowrah in Varanasi.
Photographs: Shahnawaz Akhtar

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'Modi hasn't taken a dip in the Ganga... How can he clean it?'

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Shahnawaz Akhtar

At a gathering at Lohta Bazaar, he tells his audience, "Next time a BJP supporter asks you to vote for the BJP with the promise of Modi working wonders, just ask them if they have met Modi? Did they ever get to meet Modi, shake hands with him?"

"Modi comes by helicopter and says he will clean the Ganga. How can anybody who hasn't taken a dip in the Ganga even know how dirty the water is? I have taken a dip. Hence, I know that the water of the Ganga is very dirty and needs immediate attention."

"Did Murli Manohar Joshi (the sitting BJP MP from Varanasi) ever come seeking your vote?" he asks. "Did Modi come to seek your vote? They did not have time to meet you during the elections. How will they meet you after the elections?"

Asked why he chose Varanasi and a face-off with Modi, he says, "I am contesting against Modi because he has sold Gujarat to the industrialists. He snatched land from the farmers and sold it to Adani at throwaway prices. I have documents related to it."

"Around 5,872 farmers committed suicide in Gujarat. The country's first Wal-Mart outlet, which led to the shutting of smaller stores, has been opened in Gujarat's Anand district."

Clutching at a bunch of papers, he adds, "I have documents that show how gas prices have been manipulated by Mukesh Ambani. We have lodged an FIR (First Information Report) against Ambani; till date no one has dared to do so against Ambani."

"From April 1, the gas prices were to increase, so I had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop the rise, as it would kill the common man, but he did not reply. So, I wrote to the Election Commission, which has deferred it till May 16."

"Both Modi and Rahul Gandhi are Ambani's agents," Kejriwal alleges at the meeting.

At his meetings, he also sings Insan Ka Insan Se Ho Bhaichara and says though he may be a poor singer, the people should care for the lyrics of Manna Dey's song from the 1959 film, Paigham.

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Image: Kejriwal spares neither Narendra Modi nor Rahul Gandhi at Lohta Bazaar.
Photographs: Shahnawaz Akhtar

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'I left my job in California... and will remain with AAP'

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Shahnawaz Akhtar

Amish Thakkar, a resident of Ahmedabad, is a member of Team Kejriwal.

"After working for two years in California," says Amish, "I left my job in January. I was in Gujarat earlier, and when the election ended there, I came here to help Kejriwal, started updating AAP's social networking sites and carried out door-to-door campaigns to tell the people of Varanasi the realities about the Gujarat model of development."

Mohammed Tayyab, another Team Kejriwal member, who has a gaming business in Hyderabad, adds, "I coordinate in publishing campaign material." When asked if they are paid by the Aam Aadmi Party, they reply, "We work for free. I left my business to become part of this revolution," says Tayyab.

"I have decided not to return to the US when this election is over," Amish adds. "I will see what can be done in India and will remain with AAP."


Image: Amish Thakkar, an AAP volunteer, right, spreads the word about the realities of the Gujarat model of development.
Photographs: Shahnawaz Akhtar

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