Arvind Kejriwal’s attack on the BJP inside the Delhi Assembly was measured and well strategised. This was done keeping in mind his future political endeavours
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal was once the poster boy for liberals. Kejriwal was someone who came from mass movements to join active politics and challenge Narendra Modi one on one.
Many people would remember his scathing attack on Prime Minister Modi after the CBI raided the Delhi chief minister office. With time, Kejriwal’s politics has changed. In the past few years, he has targeted the Congress more than the BJP. However, recently, during his first speech inside the Delhi Assembly after the massive AAP victory in Punjab, he launched an aggressive attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The social media and political circles immediately pointed out that the old Kejriwal was back. Is this really the older avatar of Kerjwial who will take on Prime Minister Modi and the BJP again the way he used to do? The answer is not simple. Examining the new avatar of Arvind Kejriwal requires some caution.
Why AAP sees BJP as its key contender in upcoming polls
In the recent Punjab elections, the AAP received a landslide victory. Its principal rival in Punjab was the Congress, followed by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). In Punjab, the BJP was hardly a factor. In 2013, when the AAP started its political journey in Delhi, Kejriwal mostly focused on the Congress and its vote bank. With time, despite becoming the chief minister of Delhi for the third time, Kejriwal has not been able to cut into the vote share of the BJP much.
However, the AAP understands that the journey beyond Punjab and Delhi cannot happen without defeating the BJP. It will fight in the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections. The BJP will be the key opponent of the AAP in these two states.
The political situation in Himachal Pradesh is not so good for the BJP. But Kejriwal understands that if he can get a significant foothold in Gujarat, it will shake Indian politics because it is the citadel of Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Meanwhile, the AAP national convenor held a huge rally in Gujarat on Saturday. At this rally, newly-elected Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Maan also accompanied Kejriwal. Last year, the party performed well in the Surat civic body polls. However, it gained by cutting into the votes of the Congress. But, Kejriwal will have to cut into the BJP’s vote share to win Gujarat or even emerge as the key Opposition party in the state. In other states as well, the AAP will need a narrative to woo the hardcore voters of the BJP.
Why AAP will need a new narrative to counter BJP in Delhi civic poll
Despite being the chief minister of Delhi, Kejriwal has very limited power. This is because Delhi is not a full state and has a trifurcated power structure. Delhi has three municipal corporations, and the BJP has been ruling these corporations for more than 15 years. The AAP has been campaigning against the BJP for the past two years to defeat them in the MCD election.
Meanwhile, the BJP-led Central government announced that it would unite these three MCDs and introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha. This month, the tenure of the MCDs will be over. The Election Commission had to postpone the polls due to this new bill.
This has irked Kejriwal. The basis of the campaign against the BJP in the MCD election for the AAP is corruption. The party claims that the municipal corporations of Delhi have been suffering from a massive fund crunch because of the corruption of the BJP. Meanwhile, this unification move is the BJP’s way of dealing with this allegation. Kejriwal understands that until and unless he can take on the BJP directly, his party might again lose the MCD polls.
Kejriwal wants to win the MCD elections because he does not want to look weak on his turf. With this fresh attack on the BJP, he wanted to create a space that will set the tone for the AAP to change its narrative over the MCD election campaign.
Why Kejriwal wants to push his idea of Hindutva
Unlike other political parties, including the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, and the NCP, the AAP has not distanced itself from Hindutva. Generally, the Opposition parties try to avoid the question of Hindutva because they believe it will benefit the BJP. But Kejriwal has developed his parallel Hindutva narrative over the years. Kejriwal knows he has to counter the Hindutva and nationalism of the RSS to cut into the vote of the BJP. To counter the BJP’s Hindutva, Kejriwal needed a platform on which the saffron party could accuse him of being anti-Hindu. Kejriwal prepared that ground carefully with his speech inside the Delhi Assembly, and his efforts were successful. The BJP launched a fresh attack on Kejriwal and said he is “anti-Hindu”. After that, BJP youths led by MP Tejaswi Surya tried to break into the residence of the Delhi chief minister.
Why Kejriwal needs to have anti-BJP image to stay ahead of others in Opposition
Right now, the condition of the Opposition is deplorable. There is a race among the Opposition leaders to lead the front. After her victory in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee presented herself as the key Opposition face and tried to reach out to the non-Congress Opposition parties. Similarly, she campaigned for Akhilesh Yadav during the Uttar Pradesh elections. A lot of people believe that in this race to become the key Opposition face, Kejriwal is one of the obvious contenders. The AAP’s victory in Punjab has established the party in two major states in and around the Hindi heartland. The AAP has also won two Assembly seats in Goa, and soon it might get the tag of the national party as well.
In Indian politics, Kejriwal is a newcomer compared to the other Opposition politicians. He has fewer friends in political circles. To lead the Opposition, Kejriwal will need a strong anti-BJP narrative. He knows that attacking the Congress will not bring him much success in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. For example, in the last general election, the AAP lost all seven seats in Delhi because, at the last moment, they decided to drop the idea of allying with the Congress.
Lastly, it must be accepted that the older avatar of Kejriwal will never return. This new version of Kejriwal is neither spontaneous nor an anarchist. His attack against the BJP inside the Delhi Assembly was measured and well strategised. This was done keeping in mind his future political endeavours. With time the one-on-one battle between Kejriwal and Narendra Modi is likely to increase and that will be an interesting battle to witness.
The author is an independent journalist based in Kolkata and a former policy research fellow at Delhi Assembly Research Centre. Views expressed are entirely personal.
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