Kejriwal attempts to make a mark in poll-bound Gujarat

The BJP has been in power in Gujarat since 1998

September 13, 2022 11:44 am | Updated September 14, 2022 12:49 am IST - AHMEDABAD

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has dinner at the residence of the auto-rickshaw driver Vikram Dantani, in Ahmedabad, on Sept. 12, 2022.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has dinner at the residence of the auto-rickshaw driver Vikram Dantani, in Ahmedabad, on Sept. 12, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

From riding an auto rickshaw to visiting schools and temples and announcing sops for different constituencies, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has taken the ruling BJP head-on in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native State Gujarat which goes for the assembly polls in three months. 

Since March this year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo has made a dozen trips to Gujarat, visited various regions, addressed rallies, offered prayers at temples and held town hall interactions with different communities in a bid to position the AAP, a new political start-up in the State, as the main challenger of the ruling party that is in power since 1998. 

So far, he has announced a wide range of pre-poll sops including free electricity, unemployment allowance to youth, monthly allowance to women, stipend to new lawyers and free education and healthcare services to all. 

On Tuesday, he said that “Congress has finished in Gujarat” and claimed that the AAP was the principal challenger of the ruling party in the state. He also reiterated that the BJP was rattled with rise of AAP in the state.

On September 12 evening, the Delhi Chief had dinner at an auto-rickshaw driver’s home in Ahmedabad’s Ghatlodia, which is the assembly constituency of Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel. 

At the Town Hall meeting in which the Delhi CM interacted with more than 500 auto-rikshaw drivers in the city, Vikram Dantani, an auto driver invited Mr. Kejriwal for dinner, which the latter accepted.

However, the drama occurred when Mr. Kejriwal was briefly stopped by the police for riding the auto-rickshaw. The police stopped him from travelling in the rikshaw citing security concerns, which led to heated arguments between the CM and police.

Following the argument, the CM eventually was allowed to travel to the auto driver’s house in the three-wheeler which was escorted by two police cars, while one policeman sat beside the driver in the driver’s seat. 

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal arrives in an auto rickshaw to have dinner at the residence of Vikram Dantani, in Ahmedabad, on September 12, 2022.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal arrives in an auto rickshaw to have dinner at the residence of Vikram Dantani, in Ahmedabad, on September 12, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

Though BJP leaders in the State have publicly dismissed the challenge from the AAP calling it a “media hype”, privately they talk about the “disproportionate visibility” the AAP and Mr. Kejriwal have generated ahead of the high-stake assembly elections in the State. 

“He has been able to generate visibility and has become a talking point of discussions,” a State BJP leader admitted, adding that the party takes him very seriously irrespective of the AAP’s prospects in Gujarat, where the polity has remained bipolar for the last three decades. 

In Ahmedabad and almost all major cities in the State, the sheer number of ‘Ek mauko Kejriwal ne (One chance to Kejriwal)’ banners on the auto-rickshaws and slogans boldly painted on the walls with the smiling face of Mr Kejriwal with folded hands can be hardly missed.

On his part, besides announcing a slew of sops or “freebies” or what the BJP leaders call it “revdi,” Mr. Kejriwal has concentrated on wooing different segments of the electorate like auto-rickshaw drivers, lawyers, traders, village heads or sarpanches and sanitation workers. 

His promise to the policemen that their salaries will be increased if AAP is voted to power in the State prompted the State government to immediately revise the salary of lower-ranking policemen, who have been fighting for hike in grade pay for years. 

The State government has announced a raise in the salaries of the cops effective from August 2022. 

The Delhi CM has on occasion also deployed Manish Sisodia, his deputy, to visit Gujarat and juxtapose the quality of education in government-run schools in the two States. Mr. Sisodia’s few visits to the State-run schools in Gujarat forced the BJP government to turn its attention to the education sector in which the State has remained a laggard as the quality of education in the government schools leaves much to be desired. 

During every trip to Gujarat, Mr. Kejriwal doubles down on what the BJP leaders including PM Narendra Modi call “revdi” while asking, “What’s better, the government providing free education and health or waiving loans of certain corporates?” 

In his bid to be the main challenger of the BJP in its strongest bastion, Mr. Kejriwal has apparently forced both parties, the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress, to follow the narrative he has set. 

If the ruling BJP has hiked the salaries of cops and turned its attention to improving the quality of schools in Gujarat, the opposition Congress has more or less copied the major sops like free electricity up to 300 units and setting up of 3000 new English medium schools if the party is voted to power in the State. 

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