Kejriwal’s AAP is Light Years Away From Being A Challenge To Modi’s BJP

by Tushar Gupta - Mar 11, 2022 04:57 PM +05:30 IST
Kejriwal’s AAP is Light Years Away From Being A Challenge To Modi’s BJP Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Snapshot
  • If AAP and Kejriwal indeed want to imitate BJP and Modi, they should know there are no shortcuts, but are they really cut out for that kind of political and party longevity, engineering, and economics?

Of the 90-odd seats Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won in Punjab, more than two-thirds of them came with a winning margin of more than 10,000 votes, some as much as 50,000 votes. The staggering achievement of Kejriwal and his first political contemporary in the party, Bhagwan Mann, becomes even bigger when the four-way contest, one that was being assumed before 10 March, is factored in. Only in one seat, the winning margin for the AAP is less than a thousand votes. This is a grand political reset, ushered through a vote of disgust and exhaustion with other parties and personalities.

For the first time in its decade-long existence, first as an activist lobby and then as a political party since 2014, the party finds itself in a unique position. For long, Kejriwal has been an unchallenged leader within the party. Each time a parallel figure rose from within the ranks, they were shown the door. This was the fate of Prashant Bhushan, Kumar Vishwas, Shazia Ilmi, Ashutosh, and even Yogendra Yadav. Mann, as both a contemporary and coworker of Kejriwal, has navigated the personality problem within the party well enough, so much that today he wields more constitutional power than Kejriwal.

Kejriwal is the first among 'no equals' within the party, and today, that stature, even unchallenged, has an equal. Yes, Mann may happily work under the Kejriwal umbrella as a remote Chief Minister, or may have enough autonomy to govern Punjab but not threaten Kejriwal’s position within the party. But if the past events of the outfit are any indicator of the future, an infighting is imminent, and that is the first pothole in the path to becoming a national opposition.

For the sake of argument, however, even if one were to assume that Kejriwal and Mann have a working relationship that only prospers, will Kejriwal allow for regional leaders to emerge in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, or even Haryana? Even if not, they do not form the state governments within the Hindi heartland until 2029, or 2034. They would need strong leaders that can drive home the point, and more importantly, get the voters on their side. This is where the second pothole punctures the AAP crusade.

The politics of Punjab and Delhi have a strong resemblance that can be attributed to the Punjabi voter, a common factor in both the places. In 2015, it was the personality and perception combination that enabled a landslide victory for Kejriwal before the freebie policy kicked in. The voters paid for it dearly during the first and the second wave of Covid-19, but today, in Punjab, it is the same personality-perception that is working for Kejriwal, and thanks to the angst against the Congress, Captain, and Akalis, the majority number has been inflated to four-fifth of the seats for the party in the state assembly.

The question of angst, with respect to the Congress, is one that is being asked across India, in multiple states. The defeat in Uttarakhand and Goa, where Rahul Gandhi was supposed to score, has further dented the party’s prospects for 2024. Yes, there is a room for a national opposition, as many observers have noted, highlighted, and even yelled in exasperation about, but why is it being assumed that it would be Arvind Kejriwal. The assumption, to begin with, is complete folly for two simple reasons.

Firstly, the number of seats. Given the magnitude of the mandate, it would not be far-fetched to assume that the voting trends in Punjab may hold in 2024 as well, giving the AAP a shot at 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state. They won four of them in 2014, before coming down to one, in 2019. Now, with Mann as the Chief Minister, they are without an MP in the Lok Sabha but that is only a temporary hiccup before the bypolls.

Assuming there is a consolidation of the Akalis under NDA (National Democratic Alliance), of which Captain too becomes a part for his own good, and the Congress, under Navjot Singh Sidhu, Charanjit Singh Channi, or whoever the Gandhis choose as their next scapegoat, and these both groups choose to fight back, even then, AAP will manage six-eight seats.

In Delhi, where the party did not win any seat, nor in 2014 or 2019, to assume there would be a victory in 2024 is far-fetched, however. Yet, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that AAP shall win 10 seats in Punjab, three in Delhi, and will pick up five-seven seats from elsewhere, across India, say Gujarat or Uttarakhand or Goa. Even then, in the best case scenario, the tally won’t exceed 20. Instead, in many places, they would end up strengthening the BJP, indirectly.

Two, the regional parties. While AAP may be projected as a viable national opposition party to Narendra Modi’s political dreamrun, why would any regional party in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Odisha, or any state of south India willingly vacate the space for Kejriwal. Nor these states vote on factors and sentiment as the voters in Punjab and Delhi do, nor there is a cadre or leaders to dethrone the existing players, even the ones without power right now. Even if AAP was a part of some grand alliance, one that has been attempted numerous times in the past decade, they would not even make it to the top seven in terms of seats and influence.

In some pockets of the media, there is a desperate urge, during every election, to put forward a face that can be projected as a challenger to Narendra Modi’s BJP. During the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) protests it were the students, the names of which many of us do not recall. Before 10 March, it was Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee, and in between, there are days when the ‘Rahul Gandhi Rising’ episodes keep on coming, and yet, no success. Today, the bet is on Kejriwal, another losing prospect at a national level, light years away from challenging Modi or the BJP.

The people of Punjab and Delhi may share enough similarities, but the economics of the regions is poles apart. Much to their dismay, the AAP is soon going to realise that offering freebies in a state where people regularly cough up a few million rupees to migrate to Canada is not enough, nor can free lunches sustain the economy, especially when it’s in a debt of Rs 2.8 lakh crore.

Yet, they have the mandate, and thus, the opportunity, to prove everyone wrong, and perhaps, even emerge as the national opposition. However, at this point, the Congress has a better shot under a Rahul Gandhi than AAP under Kejriwal when it comes to being the national opposition for 2029.

If AAP and Kejriwal indeed want to imitate BJP and Modi, they should know there are no shortcuts, but are they really cut out for that kind of political and party longevity, engineering, and economics?

No.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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