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Delhi leader defies attacks on him to step up election fight

Despite shoes, eggs being thrown at him, Arvind Kejriwal hopes to win all seven parliamentary seats

NEW DELHI: He has been smeared with chilli powder and slapped, but Delhi's Chief Minister will still be leading the fight against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the penultimate round of the Indian election.

Fifty-nine seats are up for grabs on the sixth voting day of the marathon ballot.

The tussle for the capital will be front and centre, with all eyes on its Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - or Common Man Party - was formed seven years ago amid outrage over corruption. It has since taken control of Delhi's regional government and is fighting to add to its four seats in India's lower house of Parliament.

Mr Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be trying to stave off the onslaught and keep the seven seats it holds.

Mr Kejriwal, a tax commissioner turned campaigner, has suffered more than most in India's notoriously rough and tumble political ring.

Since 2013 and his first term as Delhi chief minister, the 50-year-old has been the target of at least seven attacks.

Ink has been thrown at him twice, with eggs also hurled on one of those occasions.

In 2016, a shoe was thrown while Mr Kejriwal made an announcement, a rickshaw driver hit him and his car was attacked by a mob with iron rods.

In November, a man smeared chilli powder on his face inside the Delhi government building.

His latest brush with danger happened last week, when a man mounted the open-top car Mr Kejriwal was campaigning in and slapped him.

BATTLE

That attack has become a new political battle, with AAP deputy leader Manish Sisodia saying BJP rivals may have wanted Mr Kejriwal murdered.

Mr Modi's party questioned whether Mr Kejriwal organised it all himself.

Mr Kejriwal, whose party has 67 of 70 state assembly seats, said in recent interviews that one month ago, he thought his party faced a "tough fight" in Delhi, but now he hopes to take all seven parliamentary seats.

"Our only aim is to stop Modi and BJP president Amit Shah from coming back to power. We will support anyone other than that duo," he told the Press Trust of India news agency.

With the opposition Congress party also in the contest, the anti-BJP vote could be divided. Still, the ruling party faces an increasingly tough battle in the election, observers say.

The BJP won 282 seats in 2014, but some analysts predict it will suffer major losses when the final results are announced on May 23.

Mr Modi has stepped up verbal attacks on Mr Kejriwal in recent rallies, accusing him of "creating anarchy".

Voting was held in seven states yesterday. West Bengal is drafting in tens of thousands of extra security forces to prevent a repeat of violence during earlier rounds of voting.

At least one of the state's constituencies is in an area prone to attacks by Maoist rebels. - AFP

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