Kejriwal at a roadshow in Timarpur, Thursday. (Express photo: Amit Mehra)
“When you go to vote on February 8, if you consider me your son, press the broom (AAP’s poll symbol), and if you consider me a terrorist, press the lotus (BJP’s poll symbol).” The strong emotional pitch made by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Thursday will be the defining feature of the AAP’s election campaign in the last phase, with the party accepting I-PAC’s suggestion to take a leaf out of Nitish Kumar’s strategy ahead of the 2015 Bihar polls.
AAP and I-PAC sensed an opportunity to turn the tables on the BJP after a video clip emerged showing West Delhi MP Parvesh Sahib Singh saying: “There are many cheats like Kejriwal and aatankwadis (terrorists) like Kejriwal hiding in Delhi. I fail to understand if we should fight against terrorists in Kashmir or terrorists like Kejriwal in Delhi.”
The fresh strategy, which started off in the form of hashtags like #DevelopmentIsNotTer-rorism and #DelhiKaBetaKejriwal on social media, had taken a definite shape by the end of the day, with Kejriwal making this the highlight of his speeches in rally after rally.
“I felt very hurt yesterday. I wanted to share my pain with you... BJP leaders called me a terrorist. In the last five years, I treated every child of Delhi as my own and arranged good education for them and BJP calls me a terrorist. Whenever someone fell ill, I made all arrangements for their treatment. I sent the elderly on pilgrimages. Is that a crime? Does that make me a terrorist? Whenever personnel of security forces laid down lives, I declared compensations of Rs 1 crore. And they call me a terrorist,” said Kejriwal.
The AAP chief’s speech also had elements of his personal life and the “sacrifices” he made to “serve the country”, ranging from choosing India over foreign shores after graduating from IIT-Kharagpur to quitting his job as an IRS officer to fight corruption with Anna Hazare. He also referred to his parents, saying how the “terrorist” slur on their son had left them dejected.
“IIT-Kharagpur is one of the most reputed institutions in the nation. I was a bright student who attained good marks. I could have gone to a foreign nation like my peers. But I chose to stay because I thought that it is only us who can work for and improve the nation. I left my job as an income tax commissioner to take part in the nation’s biggest movement against corruption. Are these the steps that a terrorist would take?” he asked.
The fact that he is a diabetic also featured in Kejriwal’s appeal: “I take insulin four times a day. If a patient of diabetes does not consume something every three-four hours, he might collapse due to low blood sugar levels. Despite this high risk to life, I led two 15-day-long fasts. I risked my life for the nation,” said Kejriwal.
With the BJP hoping to gain from the consolidation of Hindu votes, the AAP had already reworked its campaign strategy, putting more emphasis on the party’s local roots and Kejriwal as the city’s “son”.
AAP sources said the party and I-PAC will launch a series of campaigns around the same theme over the next few days to counter the BJP onslaught. The campaigns will also focus on politics of civility despite ideological differences, which figured in Kejriwal’s speeches as well. “Rajneeti ke andar bhi maryada hoti hai. The opposition parties have some ideology, we have a different ideology. But that does not mean we will abuse each other in this manner,” he said.
Ahead of the 2015 assembly polls in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had questioned Kumar’s “political DNA”. The JD(U), which fought the polls in a coalition with the RJD, had then latched on to the phrase and had even launched a “Shabd Wapsi” (take back your words) campaign against the BJP.
Political observers say that Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi’s use of “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) to describe Modi during the 2007 Gujarat state polls had also backfired, with the BJP leader describing it as an attack on Gujarati asmita (pride).
Meanwhile, the Election Commission Thursday issued a showcause notice to BJP MP Parvesh Singh for calling Kejriwal a “terrorist”. Singh, however, said, “People who are teaching us lessons on language have used extremely bad language against PM Narendra Modi in the past, like he has done setting with Pakistan and terrorists.”
“If slogans like Jinnah wali Azadi are raised in Shaheen Bagh, if slogans like Pakistan zindabad are raised... if slogans are raised there to shoot down PM and Amit Shah ji, and Kejriwal and Sisodia say they are standing with people of Shaheen Bagh... then what should I call them?” he added.