NEW DELHI,KAY BENEDICT: The public spat between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has touched a shameful low in political morality. A few months back, the CM dubbed the PM a “psychopath” and a fortnight ago he went to the ludicrous extent of saying that Modi would get him killed. Modi isn’t a paragon of virtue either when it comes to distasteful public discourse. He, too, had once disparagingly called Kejriwal “AK-47” and an “anarchist”/naxalite.
Never in the history of Independent India has a Chief Minister accused the Prime Minister of trying to get him killed! Is there a method to their madness? One is an incumbent Prime Minister and the other, a shadow PM. It is now clear that Kejriwal has national ambitions and as he fancies himself to be the future PM, he appears to have decided to keep the heat on Modi. The new kid on the political bloc has grabbed more prime time media attention than his regional counterparts through Modi bashing and thereby elevating himself to the rank of a national challenger to him in 2019.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has also been attacking Modi since 2014 but with minimal effect. While Rahul’s attacks are political and episodic, Kejriwal has earned opprobrium for his recurrent, lowbrow fusillade.
BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal recently claimed that Kejriwal has made as many as 109 personal attacks on Modi since the latter assumed office.
The repeated Modi-Kejriwal run-ins grabbing media eye balls have outclassed Rahul Gandhi, at least for the time being. Rahul’s man in Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, Ajay Maken, is struggling to get an inch of newspaper space in the national capital as AAP and the BJP intentionally slug it out, day in and day out, pushing the Congress to the margins in the national capital. Not just Delhi, the AAP’s forays into Punjab, Gujarat and Goa, going to polls next year, are likely to sour the Congress’s dream of revival in these states.
Cashing in on the huge anti-incumbency mood against Akali-BJP government, the Congress was hoping to form the next government in Punjab till the AAP entered the fray and emerged a strong rival to the ruling establishment. As of now, the Punjab outcome is unpredictable; there can be four scenarios — the BJP-Akali coalition scrapes through (thanks to AAP splitting the Opposition votes), the AAP wins, or the Congress wins or a hung House. AAP’s main handicap is lack of strong local leaders outside Delhi. To address the talent crunch, the party seems to be on a fishing expedition to hook fence-sitters from other parties. Cricketer-turned-BJP-MP Navjot Singh Sidhu and his spouse are expected to formally join the AAP shortly. The AAP chief is also trying to woo the wife of another cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad. The sulking BJP leader and Lok Sabha MP, Azad, had kicked up a row castigating finance minister Arun Jaitley for the irregularities in Delhi District Cricket Association recently. The grapevine has it that Kejriwal is also sending feelers to another sulking BJP MP — Shatrughan Sinha.
Kejriwal is slated to attend the September 4 canonisation ceremony of Mother Teresa in Vatican. His detractors say the move ahead of Goa elections is aimed to please the 25 per cent Christian population in the state.
As regards the bipolar Gujarat, the ground is fertile for an AAP experiment. Modi’s “Gujarat model” bubble has since burst and the BJP government is facing severe anti-incumbency; so much so that the party was forced to replace Chief Minister Anandiben Patel with a junior leader Vijay Rupani. The Dalit agitation sparked by cow politics and the Patidar agitation for reservation, if not handled with care, could spin out of BJP control. There is, however, a question mark if the Congress can take advantage of this ecosystem with AAP making forays into the state. Soon after Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Una to commiserate with the families of the Dalits who were flogged in public by cow vigilantes, the very next day Kejriwal too rushed to the spot to meet them. Earlier, as Hardik Patel, leader of the Patidars’ agitation, was released from jail, Kejriwal dispatched his senior party colleague Ashutosh to meet him most likely to strike a political deal, though Hardik was evasive. Patidars’ demand for reservation is a prickly issue for Kejriwal as AAP is against quota.
If Kejriwal’s bid to cobble up a Muslim-Dalit-Patel coalition succeeds, yet another state may slip out of Congress hand. The Gujarat template is, however, different from Delhi and Punjab and as such it may not be easy for AAP to penetrate the state so soon. It, however, can play spoilsport for the Congress. The Congress recently made a comeback in rural Gujarat winning local body elections in direct contest with the BJP. AAP’s arrival will ensure a triangular fight in the state to the disadvantage of the Congress. Last heard, Kejriwal is scouting for a suitable leader to helm the party in Gujarat.
Saffron strategists, however, claim that the AAP may win only a handful of seats, thus helping the BJP government to beat two decades of anti-incumbency.
The BJP and Modi may have lost some sheen in the last two years. Modi’s much talked about developmental agenda has been subsumed by the controversies triggered by divisive politics, the latest being the vigilante groups meting out medieval punishment to Dalits “skinning” dead cows. A defeat, particularly in Gujarat (the home state of Modi and Amit Shah), could undermine the halo around the powerful BJP duo. And yet, it is possible that AAP-rising ahead of the polls in crucial UP, Gujarat and Punjab may come as a blessing in disguise for them.
The writer KAY BENEDICT is a political commentator for various leading media house