Senior Political Commentator
It would be naive to believe that the third-time CM of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who has swept the polls yet again, does not harbour national ambitions. He talked of ‘nation-building’ soon after his victory. Senior AAP leader Gopal Rai was more explicit in his articulation when he said it was not just Delhi but the ‘entire country’ which needed ‘change’. He appealed to party workers everywhere ‘to start working across the country to usher in change’.
Its Bihar head announced that the party would be contesting the forthcoming elections in the state this winter. Contesting elections, the AAP knows, is one way to build an organisation, as the late founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Kanshi Ram, used to say, and for that reason, he would welcome frequent elections.
Mamata Banerjee has invited Kejriwal to campaign for her party in West Bengal, where elections are due next year. His non-divisive Hindu credentials may help counter the politics of polarisation that the BJP will push for in the eastern state.
There is no doubt that Kejriwal would like to spread his wings wherever possible and he will seize every opportunity to strengthen his party at the ground level. The runaway success he has had in Delhi in 2020 has made it possible for many around the country to look at the AAP with respect again. In 2015, when the AAP won 67 out of 70 seats on the basis of a campaign for clean politics, many around the country were looking to join the newbie party. But the ugly split in the party, three weeks after its stupendous victory, with Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan parting company with Kejriwal, stopped the rush. The AAP then went on to be viewed as any other party.
Today, it will be seen with favour, not by those who want to participate in a movement for change, but by those who want to play a politico-electoral role and are attracted by the Kejriwal brand of politics for getting the better of a Modi-led BJP.
New people may come knocking on its doors and they may include established politicians who are feeling frustrated in existing organisations. The khatre ki ghanti will be more for the Congress, where the younger leaders who have 20-30 years of politics ahead are seeing a dead end for themselves and Delhi 2020 has only reinforced that feeling. Some, including established leaders, could look at the AAP as an alternative. This is more likely in states other than Delhi.
Kejriwal’s team comprises young people who are tech savvy, with a rational and scientific bent of mind, and it may attract to its side those similarly inclined. These are people who would have naturally gravitated towards the Congress but for its moribund state and find the ‘new BJP’, heavily influenced by the RSS thinking, problematic. This is for reasons other than ‘Hindutva’ that the BJP subscribes to or a ‘Hinduness’ that Kejriwal has espoused.
While Kejriwal is expected to build his organisation in other states, he has given every indication that he will move with utmost caution this time on ‘going national’, and is not likely to make the mistakes he committed in the past. Buoyed by the response to the Anna Hazare movement for political accountability and the 28 seats that the AAP won in 2013, the party had fielded candidates all over the country in the 2014 General Election. Kejriwal himself took on Narendra Modi in Varanasi. But the AAP came a cropper, winning only four seats.
Kejriwal has said he looked forward to working with the Central government. He knows that the AAP cannot deliver on some of the promises it has made, if it displays hostility towards the Centre, as it did in the first three years of his last term. In fact, he is bending over backwards to reinforce this impression by not even inviting non-BJP CMs to his swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, which the Opposition CMs have tended to do in the past.
He knows that it is his work in Delhi which is the gateway to the recognition of the AAP nationally and internationally and this time he is not likely to jeopardise it in the quest to increase his party’s footfalls elsewhere. If he manages big-ticket deliveries in his third term, or even moves in that direction, like reducing pollution in Delhi, which will probably top every Delhiite’s wishlist, cleaning the Yamuna, 24-hour bijli and piped water to every household, as promised, his stock will go up further all over the country.
He is already eyeing the municipal elections due in Delhi in 2022, which he had lost to the BJP last time. Winning these local polls will strengthen his hands, without getting embroiled into spats with the BJP at every step, to ensure last-mile delivery.
Having said that, Punjab will be on his radar, where elections are due in 2022. The AAP had built a strong organisation in the state, and though it lost the 2017 elections, because it lost credible leaders and also because the BJP transferred its vote to the Congress at the last moment, there is a base to build on. He may also eye Haryana, Goa, and even Bihar. There is space for a third force in many states.
It isn’t just the impact that the AAP as a party will have beyond Delhi in the coming months — it is early days yet, and after all, Delhi is only a city-state — the national outreach of the AAP also lies in the alternative narrative Kejriwal has put out, which can successfully counter the Modi brand of politics.
It is a combination of a pro-Hindu, but not anti-Muslim, rhetoric, relying on word, symbols and optics that Hindus identify with; delivery — and its effective marketing — on issues such as bijli, paani, health and education; and helmed by a leader clearly in control. Other opposition parties may well adopt this model in the months to come.
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