Varanasi, April 17 (IANS): AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who admitted he should have consulted the people before deciding to quit as Delhi chief minister, has launched a dialogue with voters here as he takes on his formidable BJP rival, prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Shortly after arriving here after an overnight train ride from Delhi Tuesdaynight, Kejriwal held a two-hour question-answer meeting with voters.
“Kejriwal removed whatever confusion and doubt I had about AAP. He talks like any common man, not like the fair-weather politician who surfaces once in five years to make tall promises and never shows his face till the next election,” Gharahu Ram, a cycle rickshaw puller, told IANS.
Gharahu Ram was one of the 2,000-odd people who gathered at the playground of a school to listen to Kejriwal.
“I will hold hundreds of ‘jan samvad’ (interactive sessions) in the nook and corner of Varanasi till campaigning ends for the May 12 polls. People want to ask questions and tell me about their problems,” said Kejriwal.
AAP volunteers had distributed among the people small pieces of paper to write their questions meant for Kejriwal. People had started trickling in around 4 p.m. — and waited till Kejriwal arrived at 6.
After a brief speech in which he urged the people to defeat Modi in Varanasi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Amethi to unleash a revolution to wipe out corruption, Kejriwal answered questions from the audience.
Referring to the posters at the railway station that dubbed him a “bhagoda” (absconder), Kejriwal asked: “If I am an absconder, how come I am here to challenge Modi?”
But he admitted that he should have held a referendum in Delhi before resigning as chief minister, the same way he sought people’s views before forming a minority government with Congress backing.
“I admit my mistake,” he said to a question as to why he did not consult people before taking such a drastic step.
He dwelt at length on what he said was the nexus between the Congress, the BJP and corporate houses.
“If you vote either of the two parties to power, they will more than double the price of gas which will result in more expensive electricity, fertilizer and almost all essential commodities.”
Citing the case of Gujarat where, he said, over 5,000 farmers had committed suicide in the last 12 years, Kejriwal said: “Modi acquired fertile land from farmers at paltry compensation to gift it to his crony business tycoons.”
“If the farmers of Varanasi come to know about this, they will not vote for Modi,” he added.
Earlier, Kejriwal went to a slum to visit the family of a scavenger who had recently died of gas poisoning while cleaning an underground sewage.
Reading out a letter he wrote to the BJP mayor and municipal commissioner, Kejriwal demanded that the widow be given a job by the civic body.
He also demanded that all sweepers and scavengers should be absorbed as permanent employees instead of keeping them on contract.
“Contract system should be abolished, more staff should be recruited in the sanitation department and given all the benefits of a permanent employee.”
A political science professor at the Banaras Hindu University praised Kejriwal. “So far, no candidate has initiated such a dialogue with the voters as Kejriwal has done,” the academic told IANS, not wishing to be named.
“If he holds such meetings throughout the constituency, he is bound to strike a chord with the people.”
(Nachiketa Desai can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org)