The Aam Aadmi Party rose to fame on an anti-corruption wave.
But the halo of its party chief has come off, thanks to more hot air than political substance.
No one quite took Delhi by storm, not even Narendra Modi, like he did. For a people silently suffering what they perceived to be a “humongously corrupt” and “terror-friendly” government led by Sonia Gandhi, for a people who had become disillusioned with politicians as a class, he rode in on a pristine white horse, with a halo so luminous that it mesmerised even the most cynical on both sides of the ideological divide.
Such was the blind belief in him that even when he broke his own promise and became a politician, everyone trusted him when he said that he did so only because politics could only be cleansed, and the system changed, from within. The aura did not diminish one bit even when he took support of the Congress to become Delhi’s Chief Minister, or when, in a tearing hurry to become PM, he not only put up over 400 candidates for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but himself rushed to Varanasi to contest against Narendra Modi, the BJP’s PM candidate.
Varanasi, fortunately for India, did not buy his lie that while Modi was roaming around in planes and helicopters, he, an aam admi, had come to that city in a train “with only Rs 500 in my pocket,” and would stay there permanently even if he lost. In the event, when campaigning ended, he took the first flight back to Delhi, and has since never set foot in Varanasi.
Defeated in Kashi, he begged forgiveness of Delhiites and swore that he would never betray them again. Not only did they pardon and embrace him, they even gave him a victory like no one had ever got, sending 67 AAP MLAs to an Assembly that has a strength of 70.
Since that dazzling 2015 victory, the story of his precipitous fall from the pedestal he had put himself on, and his un-peeling as an allegedly blindly ambitious con man who is totally devoid of any values and principles, is long and revolting, to say the least. And we haven’t yet seen the bottom.
Arvind Kejriwal has done everything that he had accused the politicians he had entered politics to fight against of doing, and some more. From moving into a 5-acre bungalow, to taking state security, to trying to become the CM of Punjab by courting Khalistanis, to cheering the “Bharat Tere Tukde” gang, to accusing other politicians of being corrupt only to apologise later, to abusing and blaming Modi for the mess that he has made in Delhi, there is nothing that he has not done with a vengeance that defies sanity.
The net result is that four years after Delhi voters gave him a stunning, unprecedented victory, he has so totally lost their support that he has again done something that many thought was unthinkable: begging Congress to ally with him in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
As always, even his beggary is devoid of humility, not a tinge. The war against corruption and Congress forgotten, he now claims that he has become a “warrior” against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and demands that the Congress party play “second fiddle” to him in his latest “holy” fight with a common enemy. To pressurise the leadership of the Congress into submitting to him, he has even gone to the extent of alleging that the party is not allying with him because it is secretly in bed with the BJP.
At the same time, even though he knows he has almost completely lost public support, he is not willing to let the Congress ride on his back, on Delhi’s seven seats, in the 2019 edition of his “holy war”. Initially, he tried to fool that party into agreeing to contest only one seat, but later improved the offer to two. The latest is that he is so desperate that he is willing to settle for a 4/3 formula in Delhi, no alliance in Punjab and one only seat in alliance in Haryana.
For Congress, the dilemma is almost like the one that confronted Mayawati and Akhilesh in Uttar Pradesh, and Mamata in West Bengal. In order to defeat Modi in 2019, should it let a shrinking-dying AAP ride on its back into Parliament and beyond, at its expense? Should it listen to loyal ‘neutral’ journalists who want this alliance even more desperately than Kejriwal does?
The impact of what Congress does now will be felt in the Delhi Assembly elections which are due after less than a year. That is why Kejriwal is asking for more seats than Congress; he will demand an even bigger share of the pie from it at that time, on the strength of his 2015 score in Assembly elections and 2019 performance in Lok Sabha elections.
In short, Kejriwal, having completely lost the plot and the mandate in four short years, and desperate to cling on to power in Delhi, knows that he has no choice but to cannibalise Congress and reduce it to being a peripheral player in Delhi for years, if not decades. And he believes he can use Sonia and Rahul’s alleged hatred for Narendra Modi, and their burning desire to see him lose, to con them into falling into his trap.
Behind this devious plan lies Kejriwal’s fear that if he contests alone and gets fewer votes than Congress, he could well be forced into becoming a junior partner of that party in the Assembly elections next year. The predator will become prey.
Rahul knows that without an alliance with Kejriwal, he will not win any seat in Delhi. He also abhors the thought of Modi becoming PM again. In alliance, Rahul can win a maximum of three seats, though, given the soaring popularity of Modi and the trademark duplicity of Kejriwal, there is a real possibility that he might not win any, which will make his bargaining position with Kejriwal even worse during Assembly elections. Also, two-three seats of Delhi are not going to change the national picture for Congress. In addition, the possibility of two-odd AAP MPs moving to the BJP after elections, should the numbers so dictate, cannot be ruled out. No one is fighting a moral battle here.
Kejriwal has driven himself into a corner and is left with no choice but to beg Congress for an alliance, but Rahul has one to make. Does he want the immediate fruit of a couple of seats, or is he looking beyond 2019? Is he ready to risk becoming a fringe player in Delhi like he is in neighbouring UP, or is he eager to reclaim the space Kejriwal snatched brutally from him in 2014?