There was a ring of familiarity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s allegation on Sunday about some opposition parties being “kind” to terrorists. It’s election season again.
Addressing a rally in Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi, Modi referred to last year’s Ludhiana court blast in December. Polling was underway in Punjab when his speech was being telecast on TV channels and social media. Never mind the Election Commission-mandated 48-hour ‘silence period’! It has become a joke in this digital era, anyway.
Modi accused the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress of being soft on terror but it’s the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that must have felt the heat in Punjab. Remember Shamshad Begum’s kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana?
Look at the words and actions of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in the 48 hours leading to Modi’s Hardoi speech. It’s the AAP the BJP seemed to be more worried about in Punjab.
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Punjab politics from UP
On Friday, addressing a rally in Abohar, Modi had latched on to rebel AAP leader Kumar Vishwas’ allegations against Arvind Kejriwal to warn the people of Punjab that the AAP could “even align with separatists and anti-nationals”, The Indian Express reported.
The same day, Union Home Minister Amit Shah responded to Punjab chief minister Charanjit Channi’s missive about Vishwas’ allegation and separatist outfit Sikhs for Justice (SJF)’s appeal to the people to vote for the AAP. The government will look into it, assured Shah.
Incidentally, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has named an SJF member as a suspect in the Ludhiana blast case.
And on Sunday, while Modi was addressing the rally in UP’s Hardoi, Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma’s purported vote-for-Congress video was going viral.
So, why’s the BJP going so paranoid about the AAP in Punjab? The ruling party at the Centre didn’t have much stake in Punjab polls. Unless it’s really hoping to get to a double-digit figure and expecting the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to get enough seats for the two estranged allies to fancy their chances again!
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The AAP aversion
Those privy to deliberations in the Sangh Parivar told this writer that the BJP was determined to “stop” the AAP in Punjab. “If need be, we will transfer our (Hindu) votes to the Congress but won’t allow the AAP to come to power,” one of them said last week.
That must alarm the AAP. It had paid a heavy price for its perceived dalliance with separatist elements in 2017 Punjab polls. That had alienated the Hindus, reducing Kejriwal’s party to 20 seats in the 117-member assembly. The Congress was the main beneficiary. Its political adversaries alleged that the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had helped the Congress then.
Five years later, when the AAP was emerging as the choice of a large number of people yearning for a ‘change’ (from traditional parties) in Punjab, Modi-Shah looked determined to play spoiler. If you ask BJP leaders about their ‘aversion’ to the AAP in Punjab, they would attribute it to their security concerns in a border state. A more candid explanation would be that a hung assembly could give them an opportunity to work on the BJP’s expansion under the President’s Rule.
What they wouldn’t admit is the fact that they are more concerned about the impact outside Punjab if the AAP were to come to power in another state. As it is, BJP leaders gleefully watch Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao calling on his Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra counterparts and Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee calling up the Tamil Nadu CM. Inherent contradictions in this incipient anti-BJP, anti-Congress front make it a non-starter. The BJP is also pretty comfortable with the Gandhis biding their time, waiting for the people to vote out Modi — or his successor — at some point of time in future.
What the BJP wouldn’t want is the rise of a ‘Chhota Modi’.
Mamata Banerjee is likely to make a more realistic assessment of her national ambitions after Goa results are out on 10 March. But if, on that day, the AAP springs a surprise, it would fire up Kejriwal and also make the AAP a veritable non-BJP, non-Congress alternative. The BJP knows that 62 per cent of the voters opted for an opposition party in the 2019 Lok Sabha election despite Modi’s popularity. The BJP wouldn’t want the emergence of a Chhota Modi who could become a challenger in future.
That explains the BJP’s concerted bid to paint the AAP as a national security challenge in Punjab. Can Kejriwal do a Modi to the BJP, the way the latter turned tables every time a Congress leader called him a maut ka saudagar or chaiwallah or chor chowkidar? The Delhi CM certainly tried that projecting himself as a victim, “the world’s sweetest terrorist” who does so much for education and health.
On 10 March, one would know whether Modi or the Chhota Modi has the last laugh. The results would redefine India’s politics. The AAP would either emerge as a potential third alternative in national politics or have to live with its status as a city party for a long time to come. And if the latter happens, the Congress will again start waiting for the people to realise their mistake (of not voting for the Congress) sooner or later, and make amends.
DK Singh is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)