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AAP’s Poll Play: Party Looks to Turn Gujarat, 2024 Into ‘Modi Vs Kejriwal’ Development Model Fight

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In the backdrop of persistent allegations against its MLAs and with an eye on the 2024 elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) held the first national meeting of its elected representatives and supporters from across the country at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in the national capital on Sunday.

Approximately 1,500 people from 20 states gathered, as told by AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal, to “discuss the way ahead”. While a majority of them were from Delhi and Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, the chief minister of Punjab, was conspicuous by his absence in Delhi, although he joined the meeting via video-conferencing from Germany.

In Delhi, AAP’s Finance Minister Harpal Cheema shared the stage with Kejriwal, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, AAP Delhi in-charge Gopal Rai, National Secretary Pankaj Gupta and AAP RS MP Sanjay Singh. Kejriwal led the meeting, reiterating the commitment of the party to make ‘India No. 1’, a euphemism for the party’s national ambitions, defeat of the ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’s Operation Lotus’ by AAP’s elected legislators and the need for the party to brave it out for the next few months until the Gujarat elections are over. Indeed, the party’s strong push in Gujarat generated a lot of interest, also with the party announcing on the same day that its Punjab MP Raghav Chadha has been appointed as Gujarat co-in-charge. AAP’s Delhi in-charge of Gujarat, MLA Gulab Singh Yadav, was present with Gujarat state president Gopal Italia and party leader Manoj Sorathiya.

With the leitmotif of two ‘models of development’ in the speeches of many leaders, the AAP is looking to turn the upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat and the 2024 General Elections into a ‘Modi vs Kejriwal’ battle.

‘SEEDS IN 20 STATES’

Kejriwal said, “Today, 1,446 people’s representatives from 20 states have gathered, these are the seeds which have been planted by God. In Delhi and Punjab, these seeds have grown into trees that are giving shade and fruits to people. In Gujarat also, God has planted 27 seeds, which will blossom into trees. We are going to form the government in Gujarat.”

The AAP chief used an analogy from the epic Mahabharata to communicate his idea. “A 10-year-old AAP is taking on and defeating mighty adversaries just as Krishna felled many demons in childhood…The AAP, too, like Krishna ji, is felling big parties that indulge in dirty politics, we are felling unemployment, corruption and inflation.”

ACQUITTALS IN 135 of 169 CASES

Pointing to the acquittal of AAP legislators and councilors in 135 of the 169 cases, Delhi Chief Minister also used the platform to defend his embattled deputy Sisodia, minister Satyendar Jain, who has been in jail for more than three months, and the recently jailed MLA Amanatullah Khan, reiterating that raids and searches have got no response. In fact, Kejriwal said had Jain been in any other country, he would have been awarded for his work of providing free health services, mohalla clinics and free electricity, instead of being sent to jail for three months.

Kejriwal went on to say that in Jain’s trial, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has not been able to offer any proof, despite the judge asking for it in the past three hearings. “Now, the central government wants to change the judge.”

ALSO READ | Delhi LG Sends Legal Notice to AAP, 5 Leaders Over ‘KVIC Scam Allegations’; ‘Why’re You Scared of CBI,’ Asks Party

In a reference to the upcoming elections in Gujarat, Kejriwal said, “Be prepared to go to jail for three or four months, if you show courage, they can’t harm us.”

In fact, in a first in recent days, the AAP chief took potshots at the Prime Minister. “Those who announce from the ramparts of the Red Fort that they are against corruption are not really against corruption. They are against the AAP.”

Kejriwal also alleged that the media advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was intimidating senior editors in Gujarat.

ALSO READ | Guj Poll Position: Did Defending Sisodia in Ahmedabad Instead of Delhi Help Kejriwal’s AAP? News18 Finds Out

AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP moved two resolutions — the first to make India No. 1 and the second to defeat BJP’s Operation Lotus’. Cheema and MLA Aman Arora spoke about how the BJP targeted 10 MLAs in Punjab, but could not break even one. Cheema said, “From 2014 till 2022, when the BJP loses an election in a state (subba), it topples the government to come to power. The BJP and the PM are the greatest threats to democracy.”

GUJ POSITION

Many of AAP’s councillors from Surat, Gujarat were here for the second time with an aim to make ‘India No. 1′. They had first come to learn about AAP’s Delhi model.

The AAP now has 23 of the 27 councillors, with four having left the party to join the BJP. Nirali Patel, a young councillor from ward no 5 in Surat, said, “We are campaigning on the ground with Kejriwal’s guarantees card. Our campaign is giving us confidence that we will win the CM’s chair. Kejriwal’s guarantees card on free electricity, health care, benefits for women, which were implemented in Delhi and Punjab, is a talking point.”

Zakaria Payal, a councillor from ward no 16 in Surat, said, “In Gujarat, the AAP is forming the government. We are seeing on TV the manner in which the BJP is taking to violence and is trying hard to tarnish the reputation of AAP, to curtail its impact and to stem the attraction of Kejriwal. How can the BJP campaign when it is paying so much attention to the AAP? They don’t have the time to campaign.”

Asked whether she does not believe that AAP leaders could also make mistakes and that it may impact their position in Gujarat, Zakaria Payal said, “Anyone can make a mistake, but truth is truth. There are so many allegations against AAP leaders, but has anything been proven? They have, in fact, proven to be wrong. There was a CBI raid at Sisodia’s house, what did they get? Nothing. This proves that AAP is honest and believes in patriotism.”

GRASSROOTS WORKERS

Young Massoma Begun was in Delhi with five other elected councillors from Assam; all five of them were in Delhi for the first time. Massoma Begum, who won from ward no. 42 in Guwahati, said, “We feel proud to be associated with a party like this. The time has is such that if you think about people, they turn it against you. Everyone has now become alert. People want a party that thinks about them, and the AAP is doing that.”

Does she think that the series of raids and arrests would dent the anti-corruption plank of the AAP? “No, as long as we are thinking of the people, they can’t defeat us. People are also alert, they know who to vote for, they see through the cunningness of the other parties’.

Advocate Javed Alam, AAP councillor from Moradabad, who was here for the meeting, said, “We have approximately 64 councillors in UP. The issue is that whoever raises his or her voice against the Government is trapped in some case or the other. On that issue, councillors from UP and elected representatives from across the country are here to forge a strategy on how to tackle such an action.”

ALSO READ | AAP Chief Kejriwal’s Mission Gujarat Takes off, Looks to Land BJP’s Main Challenger Space in 2022 Polls

AAP MLAs from Goa, Cruz Silva and Captain Venzy Vegas, spoke on how Goa will lead the way in boycotting the Congress symbol. Recently, eight of the 11 MLAs of the Congress led by former Congress Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, defected to the BJP, leaving just three Congress MLAs in the opposition. “Goa and Goans have to decide and boycott the Congress symbol. Goa will be the first state in India where the Congress symbol itself will be boycotted. The hand will be replaced with the lotus. This will happen across the country,” Captain Venzy Vegas said.

On the possible dilution of the AAP’s anti-corruption plank, the MLA from Benolim constituency said, “The allegations show that the BJP is scared of us. To make sure that we don’t proceed, these allegations are coming forth. They have always been there, but have not been successful.”

Vegas went on: “Now they are scared that they will lose Gujarat. If there were no elections in Gujarat, nothing would have happened.”

ALSO READ | ‘Here’s My Offer to Modi Govt….’: Kejriwal Counters ‘Freebie’ Talk With ‘Dreams for Poor’, ‘Delhi Model’

Vegas said that the AAP is the only hope. “It is the only political start-up to complete 10 years in November. We has successfully grown and will make India No. 1 before India completes 100 years.”

Cruz Silva, the AAP MLA from Velim constituency in Goa, said he was confident of better prospects for the AAP in the future.

The closing remarks came from Delhi Deputy Chief Minister, exhorting those who have gathered to make their wards, their villages and the country “number one”.

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