x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

India’s anti-corruption champion challenges Modi in Varanasi

Arvind Kejriwal said he was ready to take on the prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party in general elections that kick off in phases next month.

Arvind Kejriwal wades into the river Ganges in Varanasi on Tuesday as he announced plans to stand against election front-runner and opposition leader Narendra Modi in the city. AFP
Arvind Kejriwal wades into the river Ganges in Varanasi on Tuesday as he announced plans to stand against election front-runner and opposition leader Narendra Modi in the city. AFP

VARANASI, India // The leader of a fledgling Indian anti-corruption party on Tuesday announced plans to run against front-runner and opposition leader Narendra Modi in the Hindu city of Varanasi in upcoming elections.

Arvind Kejriwal, head of the Aam Aadmi or Common Man Party, said he was ready to take on Mr Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in general elections that kick off in phases next month.

“I will contest elections from Varanasi. I am ready to accept the challenge and fight Modi from this holy turf,” Mr Modi said to loud cheers at a rally.

After his arrival in the city, Kejriwal, 45, took a traditional dip in the sacred Ganges river before visiting a famous temple where priests smeared his forehead with sandalwood paste.

His trip was marred briefly when opponents splattered him with ink as he toured the city in an open lorry with close aides. Local media reports said eggs were also hurled.

Earlier in the day, Mr Kejriwal told the media his real aim was to challenge the graft-tainted ruling Congress party and the BJP, both of which had “failed voters”.

“It is not just about challenging Modi,” Mr Kejriwal told NDTV en route to Varanasi.

“People in this country don’t vote for a person, they become angry and vote against a person. I am saying this time let us defeat both political parties,” he said.

Although analysts say there is little likelihood of Mr Kejriwal beating Mr Modi, challenging him in such a high-profile constituency will guarantee maximum media coverage for the Aam Aadmi leader and his party.

Mr Modi’s choice of Varanasi is loaded with symbolism, given his background as a Hindu hawk.

The Aam Aadmi Party, which is contesting its first general election, briefly gained control of the Delhi state assembly in December after riding a wave of anger about a series of corruption scandals.

Mr Kejriwal, a former tax official turned corruption fighter and politician, became for a short while Delhi’s chief minister after he unseated incumbent Sheila Dikshit of the Congress party in her constituency in state elections.

India’s nine-phase general election begins on April 7 and ends on May 12 in the giant state of Uttar Pradesh, which includes Varanasi. Results will be announced four days later on May 16.

Agence France-Presse