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Taking the battle to the adversary’s school gate: AAP in Gujarat, BJP in Delhi

It's not that easy to show us down, that too in Gujarat. We take these things personally, that's the reason the PM took it upon himself to show AAP their place, says a BJP leader.

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New Delhi: A 17-member group of the Bharatiya Janata Party takes out phones and switches on the cameras. Eager to record, almost certain of finding what they are looking for. This is a Delhi government-run school. But for them, a political battle ground.

“You go that side and record the condition of the classrooms,” says Manoj Tiwari, directing three MLAs from Gujarat.

This is the latest in the political mud-slinging between the AAP and the BJP that has been going on for the last three months. In sight, is the Gujarat assembly election where the AAP wants to do a Punjab and the BJP thinks “it’s personal”. The only silver lining is that the debate is centered around schools, education and development.

“The Delhi development model seems to be a sham. Kejriwal should clean his own backyard first before commenting on Gujarat’s schools,” says Tiwari, as he comes out of the school.

Also read: Simranjit Singh Mann is reborn because there’s an uneasy vacuum in Punjab

The visit…

It was a two-day visit and the group decided to inspect Manoj Tiwari’s NorthEast Delhi constituency. The school they visited, at around 2 in the afternoon, was Rajkiya Sarvashiksha Vidyalaya in Bhatti Mines; media stopped outside the premises of the school.

Half an hour later, when the group comes out, they look more happy than concerned. They check with each other to ascertain if each corner of the school has been recorded properly, especially the areas that are in the worst condition. The team is relieved to have completed the task they were given by their political superiors — to dig up dirt on the Delhi government.

“The building is completely dilapidated, the windows, fans and benches in all the class rooms are broken. We could not stand the heat, it was so humid inside the classrooms, god knows how the kids survive,” Tiwari told ThePrint.

The Manoj Tiwari-led group had former Gujarat ministers, party officials, political analysts, and Rajan Tiwari and Virendra Sachdeva from Delhi BJP.

This was the third school in their list of four schools and four Mohalla Clinics that the group claims to have visited. However, they maintain that the visit was not meant for the school tour, and they had come to Delhi for a media conclave.

But AAP denies BJP’s claims. Sanjeev Jha, AAP MLA from Burari, says “BJP delegation is lying, they only visited two schools, out of which one was on forest land. Hence, we could not get the permission to develop it any further. The second school they visited was in Karawal Nagar and I am challenging any media to go and see it for themselves. The school is beautifully constructed with excellent infrastructure. But the BJP delegation barged into the school and recorded visuals of the store room and left within five minutes. I even have a video-evidence of that. These are nothing but cheap political tactics by the BJP to save their image in the Gujarat elections. They should keep their agenda aside for a minute and focus on giving quality education to the kids.”

Also read: Gujarat is no Delhi. Challenge goes beyond ‘development’—contesting Modi’s iconic image

…and the trigger

What Manoj Tiwari and Co did in Delhi was a reaction. The action took place over a 1,000 km away in Gujarat.

In April, when Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia toured government schools in Gujarat and questioned the education model of the state. After visiting some schools in Gujarat education minister’s assembly constituency, Bhavnagar, Sisodia took to Twitter to “expose” the condition of schools in the prime minister’s home state. He tweeted, “There is no toilet, floor and even benches in the schools of the Gujarat Education Minister’s assembly constituency. When the government schools in the assembly of Gujarat’s Education Minister Jitu Bhai Baghani are in bad shape, then the condition of government schools in the rest of Gujarat will be worse.”

From here on, it was the Delhi chief minister who took the ‘criticise BJP schools’ baton from his deputy. Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, saying that it was very sad to see this plight of government schools of Gujarat. It has been 75 years since the country got independence, but still we could not arrange for good education, why? Not every child will get the best education, so how will India progress? Come, let us take a pledge that every child should get a good education, for this we will all try together.

This was enough to rattle not just the government in Gujarat but the entire top brass of the BJP to give it back to the AAP on their turf. Gujarat is one of the states going to polls at the end of this year and the ruling party does not want to leave anything to chance. The message couldn’t have been clearer with the prime minister himself leading the battle against AAP’s growing ambitions in his own backyard. Modi visited the upgraded Vidya Samiksha Kendra for schools in Gandhinagar within days of Sisodia’s visit. The PM praised Gujarat’s model of education and said that he would ask his ministries to study the model for replication at the national level for the “brighter future” of students.

Days after the PM’s visit, Dharmendra Pradhan called for a two-day National Education Ministers’ Conference in Gandhinagar. Sisodia was also present at the conference where all the education ministers visited the top education institutions of Gujarat.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Delhi BJP leader told ThePrint: “AAP cannot make their way into the state with their tactics. We know they are doing it for elections but it’s not that easy to show us down, that too in the PM’s own state. We take these things personally, that’s the reason the PM took it upon himself to show them their place.”

Since then, the Gujarat government has taken the lead in countering AAP’s narrative in the state. The state government advertised about Modi’s visit widely in the local newspapers, claiming that the government schools in Gujarat have “state-of-the-art technology”.

The cycle of political attacks between AAP and the BJP has caught speed and, it seems, will only go faster as the assembly elections approach.

After the PM’s visit, Sisodia yet again took Twitter, saying, “PM may not be able to see the pictures of those schools which don’t have desks for students to sit, spider webs like those in a junkyard, and broken toilets… I myself have seen these schools in the Gujarat education minister’s constituency.” This tweet escalated the war further.

Days after Manish Sisodia’s jibe on PM’s visit, the top brass of the BJP in Delhi directed the government in Gujarat to form a delegation of MLAs and visit the schools and Mohalla Clinics in the national capital with an aim to “expose the Delhi model of development”, a top source in the party told ThePrint.

A 17-member team, including former ministers and MLAs from Gujarat was formed and sent to Delhi on 28 June. These MLAs visited three government-run schools and four Mohalla Clinics across NCR.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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