Elections don’t just choose a ruler. They also cull out those unfit to rule. The upcoming state Assembly elections of 2017 will not just decide the fate of many political parties but also the political pull factor of many leaders. Delhi drawing room discourse is obsessed with the Uttar Pradesh circus—the Yadav Parivar, Gandhi’s gaffes, Amit Shah’s calculus—and has pronounced its mandate in BJP’s favour. But both pollsters and political pundits ignore the implications of how well the second youngest chief minister in India and AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal performs. Neither he nor his party is a factor in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, which also has the most Lok Sabha seats. Delhi, with just seven MPs, is hardly a factor in determining the Prime Minister or the government at the Centre. Yet Kejriwal’s Himalayan political victory in Delhi, in 2015, catapulted him to the national level. Today, winning populous Punjab and tiny Goa will provide him the turbo thrust to achieve greater political mileage and majority. AK’s performance and promises clearly indicate that he believes the individual triumphs over
ideology in new age politics.
Since his unprecedented success in Delhi, AK’s interest lies more in retaining and consolidating his national stature rather than ensuring the best governance possible within the worst constitutional framework. He has been active in politics for the past four years. Yet he remains an enigma to not just the parties but also to his core constituents. In the Hindi heartland, all talk revolves around “sabse bada sawaal, who and what is Kejriwal?” Decoding AK is the dream of the day. Is he an anarchist as the BJP would like the electorate to believe? Or is he a dictator who doesn’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of dissent? Is he a marketer and modernist thanks to being an IIT graduate? Does he have an ideology or a road map for governance? Or does he just simply practice hit-and-run politics and rules by error and terror and not conviction? Or is he just a symbol of disruptive politics?
It’s a singular case of cruise by control. Kejriwal is perhaps the only and first chief minister without a portfolio who possesses a humungous national profile. He runs his government by remote control—Deputy CM Manish Sisodia. It was evident from day one that he wasn’t willing to be confined to Delhi. AK has always pitted himself against Narendra Modi. His other foe is Rahul Gandhi. He is giving both a massive mauling on the social media. With 10 million-plus followers on Twitter and seven million Facebook ‘likes,’ AK is the second-most popular politician online. If Modi and his party have millions of social media warriors, Kejriwal has net gorillas who troll all critics of their leader.
AK is a commander with an army, which has only one target—Prime Minister Modi. In spite of his Marwari origins, AK’s tone and tenor has lambasted the business community. While national parties have a defined ideology, Kejriwal has developed a new model—Kejriwalism. He sees attack as the best form of defence. He doesn’t believe in explaining but in seeking explanations. The administrative actions of his government mirror his mission. AAP is trying to convert Delhi into a welfare state. His ministers are setting up mohalla clinics to provide free and affordable healthcare to the poor. Sisodia is obsessed with upgrading public education by visiting schools and making teachers and officials accountable.
In spite of all this, Kejriwal doesn’t have the power to transfer a police constable or an IAS officer in the city. He doesn’t have the authority to allot land for colleges, hospitals or schools. He responds by blaming the Centre for everything, which is rotten in the state of Delhi. Previous chief ministers delivered better and more because they avoided confrontations with the Centre; in the process, they got largesse and leniency from the Prime Minister and the ruling party at the Centre at that time.
The crippling effect of AK’s acrimonious relationship with Modi sarkar hardly rattles him. He has made it a virtue by projecting himself as the PM’s direct rival. If the BJP expects to win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections again in NaMo’s name, Kejriwal has chosen to present himself as the alternative who represents the masses, not the classes. For this, he has to prove himself as a leader who can provide a better government than Modi. However, he contemptuously dismisses all suggestions for any debate on development and politics with state leaders.
Recently the Congress challenged him to engage in a dialogue with Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh. Kejriwal shrugged it off, saying he will talk only with Rahul or Modi. The choice of Goa and Punjab as his battleground fits into his anti-BJP strategy. The BJP and its allies rule both states. If he conquers them, AAP will have full state powers and will not need to depend on the Centre for survival. The party captured four Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab—the only state where AK scored in 2014. By concentrating on smaller states, he is aiming to provide an alternative model of governance and also become a key national player.
For the past two years, AK has been crisscrossing states, which are ruled by either the BJP or Congress. He has established a personal rapport with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. If AAP insiders are to be trusted, Kejriwal, with three states in his pocket (if he wins Goa and Punjab), will be in a better position to bargain for a bigger national role than
Nitish and Mamata. Going from a mid-level income tax officer to a chief minister in a short span is impressive. But AK is yet to define his idea of India and politics. So far, he has been perceived as yet another avatar of the Congress by seeking votes in the name of poverty, secularism and minority appeasement. Unless Kejriwal becomes an idea and an ideology, roaming around numerous states will not help him move into Lutyens’ Delhi like Modi did from Ahmedabad to Raisina Hill. Outcome in Goa and Punjab will either make him or totally reject Kejriwal as a person fit to rule.
Follow him on Twitter@PrabhuChawla