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Kejriwal is trying to be Delhi’s ‘Chhota Modi’. Now, we wait for the elections

Modi defines electoral success in India today. So, there is no harm in replicating it.

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Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has undergone an image makeover. No more “political revolution”. No “anarchy”. No kangaroo courts (read pressers) to hang the corrupt Damini’s Sunny Deol style— na tareekh, na sunwai, seedha insaaf.

Arvind Kejriwal 2.0 is Delhi’s Chhota Modi, a political clone of the Prime Minister in the national capital. Watch the Delhi chief minister’s words and actions: emphasis on the government doing for the “first time” what “never happened” during previous regimes; conscious attempt to build a personality cult, the latest being “I love Kejriwal” message on auto-rickshaws that is an ingenious substitute for Modi masks and chants; participatory democracy by involving people in governance; projection as being one with the poor; and, among many others, the leader who lives only for the nation.

Also read: To win Delhi polls, AAP is taking tips from Modi, Amarinder, Nitish & Jagan campaigns

In words

Prime Minister Narendra Modi often talks about fulfilling the aspirations of “azaadi ke deewanon” and of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.

Kejriwal now claims to have fulfilled “azaadi ke deewanon ka sapna” and “Babasaheb ka sapna

Read the following comments to see the unmistakable similarity in how they consider all Indians as their “own family”:

“The 125 crore Indians are my family,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April.

“Every child of Delhi is like my own son. No child is any less important for me than my own son. It is my duty to provide for all of Delhi’s people because I consider them as a part of my family,” said Kejriwal last Thursday.

Look at another instance of similarity in their avowal of their lives being devoted to the country:

“I will not do anything for myself. I will devote every moment of my time and every fibre of my being for my countrymen,” said Modi in May.

“I try to spend every moment of my life in the service of the country,” Kejriwal tweeted in June.

Also read: Why Arvind Kejriwal is not Sheila Dikshit and Narendra Modi is not Vajpayee

In images

It’s not the similarity of words only. Kejriwal borrows heavily from Modi’s style of governance—in ideation and projection, if not in substance and delivery.

On Friday, Kejriwal invited suggestions from Delhiites on how the AAP government could prepare for the smog during the crop-burning season. Seeking public suggestions in matters of governance has been Modi government’s hallmark in terms of participatory democracy. The chief minister’s exhortation to people to act against dengue for “10 weeks, 10 o’clock, for 10 minutes” and taking a lead by doing it on camera in his own house reminds one of a broom-wielding Modi rooting for swachhata or cleanliness.

Taking a leaf from Modi’s book on image-making, Kejriwal no longer forgets Kargil Diwas or the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad. He is usually one of the first politicians now to “salute the martyrs” and offer condolences every time the defence forces suffer a tragedy. The AAP was quick to offer its support in Parliament for the Modi government’s move to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Pictures of Kejriwal as a devout Hindu are all over his Twitter handle: visiting Akshardham temple to seek blessings of Lord Swaminarayan and going to ISKCON temple on Janmashthami to pray to “Bhagwan Krishna” for Delhi residents and the countrymen.

After the ‘Tukde tukde’ chanting episode in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016, Arvind Kejriwal did not visit the campus, whereas Rahul Gandhi did to show solidarity with the students. Kejriwal clearly knows which side of the national security debate he has to be on.

There are numerous other such instances. There is little to distinguish between Kejriwal and Modi. Of course, one runs a union territory and the other, the nation. But that doesn’t stop the chief minister from showcasing his international standing. He seeks to burnish his public image by showcasing his “productive” meetings with foreign leaders such as with the “CM of the capital city of Australia”. “Govts of the two capital cities decided to learn from each other’s experiences,” Kejriwal tweeted, sounding like Modi after one of his international visits.

Also read: Kejriwal is no longer a Modi basher — him backing J&K decisions was only expected

What’s behind Kejriwal’s Modi-fication?

Kejriwal realised the people were growing weary of his refusal to evolve—from an ever-complaining shoot-from-the-hip activist into an administrator who can govern. They gave a wake-up call to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) way back in April 2017 in Delhi civic polls and the assembly bypoll in Rajouri Garden, a seat held by the ruling party. The BJP won the civic polls and also the assembly bypoll. The AAP ended up losing its security deposit in Rajouri Garden. But Kejriwal didn’t change as he continued attacking the Centre for all his failures in governance. A year later, in March-April 2018, he went on an apology spree to buy peace with senior leaders of different parties who he had accused of corruption.

The ostensible reason for this was the advice from his lawyers. It was, however, more to do with Kejriwal’s aspiration to play a role in national politics, for which he needed to shed his self-portrayed anarchist image. One could see the glow of pride and satisfaction on his face as he rubbed shoulders with Sharad Pawar, Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Chandrababu Naidu and H.D. Kumaraswamy in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. The results of 2019 Lok Sabha elections came as a big jolt and a reality check for Kejriwal and his brand of politics and governance.

One has seen a different Kejriwal after that. It has been weeks since one heard him blaming anything on the Centre’s refusal to grant statehood to Delhi, even though he does take occasional digs at the police administration.

He wants to be seen as a soft-spoken, non-garrulous, and humble politician who respects even his political rivals and whose focus is governance.

Read his tribute to Arun Jaitley who he had once vilified: “Untimely demise of former FM and senior leader Sh Arun Jaitley ji is a huge loss to the nation. A legal luminary and an experienced political leader known for his governance skills will be missed by the country.” There were similar tributes after Sheila Dikshit’s demise, too. The Delhi chief minister has also started acknowledging the Centre’s contributions. He tweeted “thank you Centre” after getting approval of a water conservation project on the Yamuna.

Kejriwal has come down from the moral high ground of a practitioner of alternative politics to becoming a mainstream politician who is prepared to use anything to win elections—caste, religion, freebies, you name it. It is in this context that he is making an attempt at an image makeover.

But why Modi-fication? First and foremost, Modi defines electoral success in India today. So, there is no harm in replicating it. Second, Kejriwal understands how a significant chunk of the electorate is under Modi’s almost hypnotic spell. So, Modi-baiting could be counter-productive— a debate that is raging on in the Congress, too. People may be more amenable to a ‘Chhota Modi’ in Delhi—in the absence of any notable and credible name or face in the union territory—while ‘Bada Modi’ rules the country. Third, Kejriwal needs to convince people that he is no longer an activist and he can govern and deliver. He may have very little to show in terms of governance, but the public perception doesn’t have to be based on reality.

Also read: Separated at birth? The curious case of ‘Arvind’ Modi and ‘Narendra’ Kejriwal

Can Chhota Modi outmatch Bada Modi’s party in Delhi?

If you were to ask a Congress leader, he or she would say ‘no way’. What all had Rahul Gandhi not done to become a devout Hindu like Modi? He became a janeu-wearing Dattatreya Brahmin, hopping from one temple to another. One doesn’t remember the last time Gandhi took up any cause concerning Muslims. Nothing helped him in the Lok Sabha elections.

So, why should Kejriwal’s attempt to emulate Modi succeed? First, because Kejriwal, unlike Gandhi, has the credibility of someone who is ready to govern, not someone who finds power ‘poison’. Second, the AAP leader has got his politics right and knows where he stands and how to keep his supporters happy. All he needs is to manage public perception about his ability to govern. That’s why he is emulating Modi. It seems to be making an impact, too.

For such a hardcore Modi-baiter, Kejriwal has come a long way to become a Modi clone.

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  1. I want to know from where the the author of his piece gets his weed from to say Kejriwal “He may have very little to show in terms of governance, ….”

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