If war with Pakistan is the only way to win elections, who would you wager on to go for it regardless of its consequences for the country — between Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal?”
An eminent lawyer-activist put this question to a psephologist-turned-political activist on a winter evening in early 2015. They were part of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) then and were coming to terms with the realisation that Kejriwal was just another politician who was determined to go to any extent in his pursuit of power.
“If it has to be only one of the two, I guess, Kejriwal,” replied the psephologist after pondering for a while. He himself was surprised by this conclusion. “Then, what are we doing here (in the AAP)?” asked the lawyer. Kejriwal resolved their dilemma soon, expelling them from the party.
A lot of water has flown under the old Yamuna bridge since then. The two former AAP leaders may be thinking about the irony of that discussion in today’s context. But they must also be happy that they were spot on in their reading of Kejriwal, the biggest beneficiary of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement.
Look at what power can do to children of the revolution. The humble-looking income tax officer-turned-activist had become a rallying point for all the anti-Congress forces as he turned Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death for the Jan Lokpal Bill into an anti-corruption, anti-Congress movement that caught the imagination of the country. That the Sangh was complicit in backing it was no secret nor was the BJP’s gloating over its success.
Eight years since the anti-corruption movement was launched, Kejriwal is desperately pitching for an alliance — this time with the Congress against Narendra Modi and his BJP.
Why an alliance with Congress?
On the face of it, Kejriwal’s move to ally with the Congress looks like smart politics. He has at least three reasons.
First, the two parties together could easily vanquish the BJP in the national capital that sends seven members to the Lok Sabha. The BJP clinched all seven seats in 2014 when the AAP and the Congress contested separately. Well-ensconced in Delhi where the erstwhile ruling party, the Congress, is still struggling to get its act together, the AAP considers Narendra Modi-led BJP its principal challenger here. An alliance with the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls could also help Delhi’s ruling party get back to winning ways after a series of setbacks in the past two years, including the Rajouri Garden bypoll and the municipal election losses.
Second, if the AAP manages to extend this alliance to Haryana or Punjab, it would give the party a fresh lease of life in Punjab where it is witnessing a massive slide and help it expand its footprints in the neighbouring state.
Third, an alliance with the Congress could give Kejriwal a place at the political high table in the event of a non-BJP coalition forming government post-polls. You can’t miss the pride and glee on Kejriwal’s face whenever he is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the top leaders of the country during shows of opposition strength. It does not matter any longer that he berated them for their alleged acts of omissions and commissions until recently. He always had national ambitions and they are soaring again.
A potentially suicidal act
It’s not uncommon in politics that the option that looks the easiest and the most gainful turns out to be the most treacherous. An alliance with the Congress would surely give a fillip to the AAP in the immediate future. But, it could also turn out to be a suicidal decision for the AAP in the long run.
Kejriwal may believe that like many parties that had their genesis in anti-Congressism and yet shook hands with the Congress at some point in time, the AAP too wouldn’t suffer from this tactical shaking of hands with its bête noire. In this case, the Congress would be compelled to play second fiddle to the AAP in Delhi as it does in UP and Bihar for survival but projects it as a move aimed at defeating communal forces.
Or, Kejriwal may believe that the Congress’ decline in Delhi as in other parts of the country is so inexorable that it doesn’t matter in the long run.
Kejriwal may be hugely mistaken on both counts. And it’s not because the Congress under Rahul Gandhi is not prepared to play second fiddle any more.
It’s also not because the Congress is not showing any signs of rising from the ashes like a phoenix. It’s because Kejriwal is in a self-destruct mode and that has given the Congress the courage to risk shaking hands with him.
Kejriwal isn’t like the children of ‘Total Revolution’, such as Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar, who have had long and distinguished political careers. Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement brought leaders such as Lalu, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nitish Kumar to the political forefront. But they could not have become what they became without the Mandal-Kamandal politics that destroyed the Congress party’s traditional vote bank in the Hindi heartland and beyond.
The Congress hasn’t suffered any such permanent ruptures in its vote bank in Delhi. The Anna Hazare movement did bring Kejriwal to the political forefront, but he has wasted the opportunity, all the time looking for excuses for his non-performance and driving out the best from the party with his vainglorious and supercilious attitude.
Tired of politicians whom they saw using caste, religion and money to grab power, the common man saw hope in an anti-corruption crusader who had quit the civil services to fight against the system. The same people now see him showcasing his ‘bania’ credentials in Delhi and Haryana, defending his tainted colleagues and rubbing shoulders with dyed-in-the-wool politicians. The man who became a leader by riding public sentiments for Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill was hardly agitated over the Modi government not appointing a Lokpal until the judiciary intervened.
In January 2014, Kejriwal had released ‘India’s most corrupt’ list and exhorted party members to defeat those who figured on it. In the run-up to the 2019 election, Kejriwal was rushing to Sharad Pawar’s residence to seek his intervention for an alliance with Rahul Gandhi’s party. Pawar had figured on the 2014 list.
With Kejriwal already going back on everything he and his party stood for in public life, an alliance with the Congress is all that the AAP needs to formally declare the moral death of a party that once challenged the “system”. But would you shed tears for a party that believes people would vote for it on the issue of statehood for Delhi?
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