Bangalore: A day after the BJP fielded Narendra Modi as its candidate from Varanasi, Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal Sunday declared that he was ready to contest against the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in the Lok Sabha polls. However, Kejriwal told a huge election rally here that though AAP leaders had asked him to take on Modi, he would do so only after knowing the response of the people of the Hindu holy city in Uttar Pradesh March 23.
"My party has said you should take on Modi in this election," Kejriwal told his audience, triggering a roar of approval. Underlining that it was "important to defeat Modi", the former Delhi chief minister said: "It is a very big challenge. It is not a small challenge... I am ready to accept this challenge."
Kejriwal quickly added that he will visit Varanasi March 23 and take a final decision after finding out if people there wanted him to contest from there. "I appeal to people from all over the country to reach Varanasi March 23," Kejriwal said in an appeal that clearly indicated that the AAP was keen to challenge the Gujarat chief minister. Varanasi, about 290 km from state capital Lucknow, will vote May 12 in the ninth and last phase of parliamentary polls.
Stating that the political establishment has become a symbol of corruption, communalism and rising food prices, Kejriwal said it was important to defeat the top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. "We have to defeat Narendra Modi too." But he insisted that Modi must fight from only one parliamentary seat, not two as it is being rumoured.
"We hear he is looking for a safe seat. Why does he want a safe seat? We need a bold prime minister, not one who looks for a safe seat." Kejriwal's campaign theme was that people across the country were sick and tired of established political parties and desired change.
He particularly targeted the Congress and the BJP as well as Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and BJP's star leader Modi. "People are, of course, angry with the Congress. Some say they will get only 100 (Lok Sabha) seats this time, some say only 50, some say only 25." In the same breath, Kejriwal said the electorate also felt betrayed by parties such as the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Indian National Lok Dal, Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party.
Terming the Congress and the BJP as two sides of the same coin when it comes to corruption and looting the country, Kejriwal said his party has decided to contest against important leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Kapil Sibal, M. Veerappa Moily and Sharad Pawar, who have "cheated the people".
"We need to defeat both the Congress and BJP in this historic election. We are fielding Kumar Vishwas to defeat Rahul Gandhi from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. Sensing defeat, Congress leaders are already causing trouble to Vishwas. We are not going to buckle and Vishwas is bold enough to take on Rahul," Kejriwal said.
Challenging Modi's claims of Gujarat's economic development, Kejriwal dished out facts and figures to show that this was not true and that Modi had spread "white lies". He said that contrary to claims, corruption was rampant in Gujarat and 800 farmers had committed suicide in Gujarat since Modi took power in 2001.
Modi, he said, stood for "crony capitalism" and that some 60,000 small scale and medium scale industries had closed down in Gujarat during Modi's rule. Kejriwal rubbished the BJP's criticism that he "ran away" by deciding to resign as the Delhi chief minister in February over the Jan Lokpal bill.
"Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as the railway minister after a railway accident. Did Shastri run away from his responsibilities? "We have not run away... When the next election takes place in Delhi, we will get more than 50 seats."