New Delhi: With Arvind Kejriwal set to take oath as Delhi Chief Minister for the third consecutive time Sunday, there is one question many in the political circles are asking: Is his pre-election image makeover as an affable, humble and non-combative politician for good?
The first clue came in his response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s congratulatory message on the day of the results.
“Thank u so much sir. I look forward to working closely with the Centre to make our capital city into a truly world class city,” Kejriwal tweeted on 11 February.
Thank u so much sir. I look forward to working closely wid Centre to make our capital city into a truly world class city. https://t.co/IACEVA091c
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) February 11, 2020
The chief minister designate’s last stint was marked by frequent tussles between the central government and the Aam Aadmi Party dispensation in the national capital, with the latter not implementing many Central schemes.
The two also fought over jurisdiction, until the Supreme Court settled the dispute over Constitutional arrangement, ruling that the powers in relation to public order, police and land would vest exclusively in the Central government.
Set for his third term, Kejriwal is no longer the capital’s chief disrupter. His 2020 avatar is quite different from what Delhiites were once used to — an angry, anti-establishment and ever-complaining chief minister who saw a Modi government conspiracy in almost everything.
“He has matured, stays calm and is cool-headed,” former AAP member Ashutosh told ThePrint. “He will continue to be so since he has realised that losing patience and fighting with everyone gets one nowhere.”
Ashutosh added that the change in attitude will help Kejriwal in getting pending projects approved by the Centre.
“I don’t think Kejriwal and the Centre can ever be at harmony since both Modi and Kejriwal don’t like each other but if Kejriwal remains his diplomatic best, it will serve him well,” Ashutosh said.
Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), feels that the new Kejriwal will, perhaps, now take a prompt stand on crucial national issues.
“There is no election to worry about. So while he won’t be confrontationist, Kejriwal may express his views on Shaheen Bagh and other such issues now,” Kumar said.
“But you won’t see verbal spats now.”
Even Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari was hopeful that the AAP government will maintain cordial relations with the Centre unlike the rocky relations of the past. “Debates and political opposition is fine until the elections but the people expect the government to act after that,” he said. “Kejriwal should set an example.”
He also said that he expects the Kejriwal dispensation to implement key central schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Ayushman Bharat.
Focus on bringing new buses first, full statehood: AAP
Another key area of focus as Kejriwal takes over again is governance in the national capital.
The AAP chief has developed his own governance model — based on providing water and electricity at heavily subsidised rates. The ‘freebie politics’, which ensured victory in the elections, is likely to continue.
“We are still registering our win. Everyone is very happy but we need to sit and internalise everything, for starters,” a senior AAP leader told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
“Having said that, development projects will start parallelly. Women’s safety and security and cleaning the Yamuna bank or full statehood cannot happen overnight.”
The leader, however, added that perhaps the party will begin with introducing new buses to speed up last-mile connectivity in the national capital. AAP’s guarantee card, launched ahead of the elections, talks of inducting another 11,000 buses.
The new government is also likely to kick off a pilot project that will allow markets, which contain cafes and malls, to remain open round the clock.
Expansion beyond Delhi comes later but in pipeline
Just like in 2015, when his victory in Delhi led to speculation of national ambitions, Kejriwal faces similar questions.
The chief minister-designate gave a hint of these ambitions. “… This (AAP’s victory) is a great message for not just Delhi, but the country. This politics of work will take India to the 21st Century,” Kejriwal told the media after the win.
“This victory is not just of the people of Delhi but that of Bharat Mata. This is a victory for the entire country.”
Even Gopal Rai, one of the AAP’s most senior leaders, made veiled references to its national ambitions in his speech. “It is not just Delhi but the entire country that needs change. The same patriots who live in Delhi can also be found in Bihar, Tamil Nadu. I appeal to party workers to start working across the country to usher in change,” he said, emphasising the birth of a “new kind of nationalism — of schools, hospitals, women’s safety”.
Party spokesperson Ajoy Kumar told ThePrint that it will look at Bihar first and then Punjab.
Experts, however, aren’t sure of its national prospects again.
“The party needs to hold on for a while. They won’t go for this immediately is my sense,” said Kumar of the CSDS, adding that AAP needs to take at least a year and a half before it jumps into anything beyond Delhi.
“He (Kejriwal) saw what happened when he won Delhi earlier and then rushed towards Lok Sabha elections. They need to have the resources,” Kumar added.
Gilles Verniers, co-director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data and assistant professor, Ashoka University, too feels that the AAP’s approach has limited appeal.
“The technocratic approach adopted by the AAP in its campaign may have worked in Delhi,” he said. “It would be insufficient to help the party expand beyond the borders of the national capital.”
“The lack of proper leadership, party resources and realisation of one’s limitations would also prevent AAP from going national immediately,” former AAP member Ashutosh told ThePrint.
(With inputs from Neelam Pandey)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.