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Will this mark the beginning of PM Narendra Modi’s reign ?
Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India observer, TIO, NJ: Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is facing probably the toughest electoral battle of his life in 22 years, in Gujarat despite denials from his second in command, home minister Amit Shah. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been practically getting a walkover from Congress, the only opposition in the state for the last 27 years, has been for months rattled by the presence of a third force, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Arvind Kejriwal and his band of young, passionate volunteers, whose average age is just 29 years. A loss here for Modi, would seriously challenge his candidature for the PM’s post in 2024.
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After giant wins in Delhi and Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal entered Gujarat six months ago to test waters and within days, he saw potential to conquer yet another state. But Gujarat is not an ordinary state. This is the home ground for both Modi and Shah, from where they took a giant leap to the center. This is one state, where they assume they are invincible and despite Intelligence Bureau reports that AAP was making headway in the state, the thugs of Gujarat took it lightly. This is the state which is their laboratory of communal hatred, where the 2002 Gujarat riots was deliberately triggered, to give Modi a Hindutva vote bank, certain victory and 127 seats in the assembly elections in December 2002.
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Since that victory Modi’s performance has been steadily dipping, but a weak opposition, caste equations and communal sentiments whipped up in time for elections saw him through for three terms, till he decided to extend his ambitions and over stretched his lies to reach the center stage in Delhi.
It is in Delhi, that Modi’s winning streak was halted and three straight times, he was defeated by a brand new party registered only in November 2013.
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In less than a decade, Kejriwal has proved to be a giant slayer, winning not just in Delhi thrice, but also in Punjab, with the kind of margins, not seen in 70 years since independence. In these ten years, Modi has tried every stunt to ensure that Kejriwal is contained in Delhi, with limited powers, since Delhi is a half state. But purely on the strength of his revolutionary work in Delhi government schools, health centers, giving free electricity and water to 75% of Delhites and still doubling the revenue in less than five years, to continue to run a debt free surplus budget for seven years, the only state in the country to do so, is remarkable.
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In these nine years, while Kejriwal’s trust quotient has grown in multiples, Modi’s brand value built by corporate funding running into billions has been steadily dropping. The country is currently passing through massive difficulties, having trusted an illiterate, incompetent, corrupt man, lying through his teeth to lead the way.
AAP is now threatening to dislodge BJP from most of Gujarat’s 182 constituencies, which will witness polling on December 1 and 5, with the cleanest and most positive campaign ever seen in Indian elections, with a clear vision and implementable promises which will really make a difference to people’s lives within days of the change in government.
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And yet entering Gujarat, with limited resources, no organization, with a very young, passionate band of volunteers was a daunting task for Kejriwal. What gave them the fillip was a 28 seat victory in Surat and one seat in Gandhinagar, in the 2021 municipal corporation elections, with just local leaders and zero funding from the party. AAP candidates spent about Rs 4.5 lakhs in a ward of four councilors, while BJP candidates spent Rs 2-3 crores in each ward.
AAP’s USP has always been the door to door campaigning, months before election, the zeal of which is unmatched by any political party in the country. The entire campaign was led by young leaders Manoj Sorathiya, a businessman from Surat, hurt by Modi’s regressive taxation policies including Good and Services Tax (GST) and the firebrand 33 year old Gopal Italia, a police constable who resigned from his job, to be part of the Patidar movement which too shook up the Modi administration, since it started in 2015.
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An insecure dictator that he is, Modi never allowed any leadership to grow around him in the party from 2000 onwards, keeping a tight grip on the state, even after he took charge in Delhi in 2014. His leadership has been one of fear and threats, with which he rules the state and keeps the opposition in check. Just not Arvind Kejriwal.
The corporation election results made Kejriwal take the local leadership seriously and while Gopal Italia was made the state president, because of his exemplary leadership skills and Manoj Sorathiya was made the state general secretary. Just a few months later, Gujarat’s rockstar journalist and anchor Isudan Gadhvi, resigned at the peak of his career, to take a political plunge. Isudan, a farmer’s son, was known to take up serious issues of corruption which rocked the BJP administration, including Modi, when he was the chief minister. A month before poll dates were announced, AAP released a number where people could call or message their choice of chief minister and 74 % of the 17 lakh calls received chose Isudan Gadhvi as their future chief minister, violently shaking up BJP’s boat.
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In all these years, just a few days before polls, Modi and his bunch of corrupt thugs would distribute money, illicit liquor, cheap sarees, a bag of rice, stir up communal violence, take into confidence the leaders of various castes and communities, threaten them or bribe them and victory was a done deal, with little or no resistance from the only opposition Congress.
But this time, Modi and Shah are being forced to work over time to save their turf. While Shah has been stationed in Gujarat for a couple of months now, Modi himself has decided to conduct 36 meetings before polling day.They even attempted door to door campaigning, until they came face to face with people’s anger, when many were greeted with a garland made with old shoes and chappals.
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Many sabhas led by top leaders of BJP including Modi, Shah, BJP chief J P Nadda, and the UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath were all seen addressing a large number of empty chairs. In many meetings it was seen that school/college students, including female students from a nursing school, were being forced to occupy the empty chairs. Their regular ploy of bringing in the crowds by paying them has not been working this time.
From raiding AAP’s office, deathly attacks on AAP volunteers and leaders including Sorathiya, several false cases against Italiya, spreading canard against Gadhvi, accusing him of getting drunk and misbehaving with BJP’s female volunteers, when he is a teetotaller, tearing their posters, banners, warning the media from inviting AAP leaders to their debates, BJP has done it all. Even kidnapping one of AAP’s candidates Kanchan Jariwala and his family, who was assured of a sure victory in Surat, at gunpoint and forcing him to withdraw his nomination on November 16, a day after he filled it.
Constant persecution of senior AAP ministers Satyendra Jain and Manish Sisodia, by central investigating agencies to stop them from challenging BJP in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat too happened. But nothing dithered Kejriwal, who believed that Gujarat saw a hope in him and were waiting for a worthy opponent to BJP to shift their votes. His guarantees were met with trust and approval.
While Narendra Modi has not lost a single opportunity to snatch money away from people’s pockets, with the country reeling under its highest inflation in 35 years and under unemployment at its highest peak in 40 years, Arvind Kejriwal’s guarantees promise to put Rs 25,000 to 30,000 in every family’s pockets through his welfare measures. This is not akin to offering bribes just once before elections and then looting from the same people for the next five years.
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The many guarantees offered by Kejriwal, including world class government schools, and health centers, free water and 300 units of free electricity from March 1, 2023 onwards, which would cover the needs of 75% of the population, have all been an instant hit with the locals reeling under huge electricity bills due to faulty meters, which never get fixed. Electricity in Gujarat is the most expensive despite manufacturing it, while in Delhi it is the cheapest, despite it buying from other states.
Farmers who have suffered the most under Modi rule, have been promised Minimum Support Price (MSP) at least on five crops, besides compensation of Rs 50,000 per hectare on crop damage, with adequate electricity for at least 12 hours and water as top priority. Farmers hardly get eight hours of uninterrupted electricity now and get water only at night. Industries get first preference to both.
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Arvind Kejriwal has not only promised to immediately fill in all government vacancies, with promises to create 10 lakh jobs, but is also offering Rs 3000 as unemployment wages, till they are employed. He has also offered Rs 1000 for every woman above the age of 18 to empower them. He has also guaranteed that as soon as they come to power, they would start work on creating 20,000 mohalla (local) health clinics.
Locals are tired of Modi’s economic packages, running into several thousand crores, of which there is no sign of after the elections are over and which never trickled down to the voters for decades now, Arvind Kejriwal’s electoral promises, which come with his stamp of guarantee sound appealing to the voters, because these promises have been fulfilled in Delhi and Punjab.
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In the last six months, Kejriwal has convinced Gujarat that “parivartan” (change) is important, if they and their children have to progress, not just that of politicians and their children.
Alarmed by the rising progress of Kejriwal, Modi and his men and the national media tried their hardest to discredit Kejriwal’s welfare measures,claiming it would lead to coffers drying up and the country going Sri Lanka’s way. This did not deter Kejriwal, who launched a scathing attack on Modi, that both the center and the BJP ruled states, were facing a crisis and were debt ridden despite offering nothing to the people, while his state continued to be debt free and in a surplus budget despite giving everything. He educated the people that it was their own taxes which were coming back to them, which would have earlier filled up the politicians coffers.
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Arvind Kejriwal scored big when despite Modi calling AAP’s social welfare schemes ‘rewadi” (an Indian sweet, meant to lure voters), Kejriwal turned the months long propaganda, saying that if measures like 400 units of free electricity, 20,000 litres of free water, basic health clinics and free government schools, which are in line with the United Nations guidelines for leading a dignified life, is “offering rewadi” then yes he is guilty of it.
On the other hand, his colleague Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi, and a very popular education minister who has made international headlines, retorted that it is the Modi government which is distributing “rabaddi” (a rich milk custard) to his corporate friends, by waiving off 100 lakh crores of Non-Performing Assets, which has turned several banks turtle.
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One of the biggest contributions of Arvind Kejriwal to Indian democracy is educating the people for their own development and that of their children, which has not been the case till now. Almost every political party in the country, including the two national parties Congress and BJP, have been content with religion/caste politics and developing safe votebanks on these lines.
Despite voting on the religion/caste lines, their minority, dalit, tribal leaders grew in status, but the lives of the 80% poor changed very little or remained the same,
But since 2014, unbridled inflation of even essentials like grains, milk, vegetables, cooking oil, cooking gas, rising petrol/diesel prices, increasing unemployment, freezing government jobs since 2016, deliberately killing public sectors to promote private sectors, the inhuman mismanagement of Covid, with attempts to project Modi as an incarnate of Lord Ram continued, as people suffered.
And miracle of miracles, despite the media forwarding only the BJP agenda, AAP managed to get their message across through their own social media networks, established by unpaid party volunteers. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And so despite the hurdles in all their work, AAP managed to build excellent government schools, with olympic size pools and tennis courts, which would put the best private schools charging lakhs as fees, to shame.
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The Zero bills for electricity and water in Delhi and Punjab went viral on social media, which is now being seen by voters in different states, reeling under huge bills, despite minimum needs. It was no different in Gujarat.
Six months back, when Arvind Kejriwal, dared campaign in Gujarat, he was warned by well wishers and opposition alike that it was impossible to beat Modi in his home ground, with limited resources. Kejriwal was assailed with similar doubts, but the feedback from his young local leaders that Gujarat was ready for change, gave him the courage to step in the enemy camp. More than six months of intense campaigning personally, with his compatriots from Punjab, including the very popular chief minister Bhagwant Mann had Gujaratis screaming into every available mike that they want “parivartan”.
Congress and its policies were not good enough for the voters to make the shift for 27 years, but AAP’s tagline “Ek Mauko Kejriwal Ne, Ek Mauko Isudan Ne” (One chance to Kejriwal, One chance to Isudan) has hit home.
Besides the “mongwari” (inflation), another problem very unique to Gujarat is that the question papers for qualifying exams for government jobs, for which the youth prepare for years, is leaked just before the exams. For a couple of hundred jobs, requiring a basic college degree, usually there are lakhs of applicants and in most cases, many are overqualified for the posts advertised as well, such is the desperation. And despite collecting the exam fees from lakhs of applicants, after the paper leak, no exams are re-held. Not only is this a huge scam, but there is no real intent to actually fill up the vacancies, when the ultimate motive is to privatize every sector.
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Like all states, in Gujarat too politicians have a stake in closing government schools, denying basic education to 90-95 % of the students, making education available only to remaining less than 10% students, at a premium without any ceiling whatsoever !
6000 government schools have been closed in Gujarat so far, without a single government school/college/university built in decades. Even the ones existing have been left to rot, with school children studying under dire circumstances, with falling walls, ceilings, sitting on the floor, no desks, with no adequate bathrooms for students or teachers.
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When AAP volunteers started exposing the condition of the schools even in the hometowns of the prime minister Modi, home minister Amit Shah and even the chief minister, Bhupendra Patel, the Gujarat ministers decided to come to Delhi, to visit the government schools and publicly “expose” it which of course never happened, despite an open invitation from the AAP government to visit any school of their choice. On the other hand, even the Delhi education minister was stopped from visiting government schools in Gujarat, after a couple of his visits went viral, drawing flak for the Gujarat government. Incidents like these have not only unraveled the Gujarat model, but also slammed the credibility of Modi and his band of incompetent ministers in the centre and Gujarat.
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In just the last five years, Modi has changed three chief ministers hoping it would make a difference. It has not, because the chief ministers are nothing more than puppets controlled by Modi, with no will or initiative of their own. The way the present chief minister Bhupendra Patel, was made to trail behind Modi’s car, on his visit to Gujarat, to deliberately embarrass the chief minister the arrogance displayed by Modi, wasn’t lost on Gujarat.
Arrogance and insecurity has shaped Modi into a dictator, reducing the entire leadership below him into a bunch of willing puppets in the center and in Gujarat, throwing senior ministers out of reckoning in the present elections, enraging them and causing them to rebel against the Modi and Shah.
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On one hand Modi government in the state or the center are always throwing up their hands that they do not have enough funds for anything and still incurring huge debts on itself , despite doing nothing in terms of public welfare, Arvind Kejriwal assures from every platform that there is enough funds in the coffers and can be effectively utilized for people’s welfare if only corruption is reigned in, the way they did it in Delhi.
In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, where liquor is prohibited by the government, depriving it of valuable excise duty, illicit, spurious liquor is freely available in every nook and corner of Gujarat, run by BJP leaders. Regular incidences of mass deaths by spurious liquor is conveniently swept under the carpet. This is just one of the many instances of open corruption in the state.
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The recent, horrific Morbi bridge tragedy which killed 135 innocents, including 54 children, 33 under the age of 10, out there to just spend some fun moments during Diwali holidays, when an ill maintained 143 year old historic bridge, closed for months for repairs, was opened to the public prematurely to make a quick buck, is another example of extreme corruption which is the hallmark of Modi’s administration. Neither the state nor the central government is willing to take responsibility for the tragedy, nor explain why a watch repairer, owner of Oreva companies, Jaisukh Patel was given a contract for Rs 2 crores, without a tender or experience. Since his proximity to Modi was well known, no FIR was filed against Patel and was instead given a safe passage out of the country, while laborers working at the place for daily wages were held responsible and thrown in jail.
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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai
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