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More cooperation, less confrontation — why Kejriwal-Modi equation will be different this time

Political observers and BJP members point to a changed situation to say neither can afford a tumultuous relationship.

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New Delhi: While Union Home Minister Amit Shah is yet to congratulate the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal nearly 24 hours after their victory, PM Narendra Modi led senior BJP leaders in wishing the party as results began to be finalised Tuesday evening.  

Kejriwal responded immediately, saying he looked forward to working closely with the central government.

As Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal prepares to be sworn in for his third consecutive term as Delhi Chief Minister, observers expect a different, more harmonious relationship to take shape between him and the Modi-led central government. 

Kejriwal is no longer the angry young man of politics, taking swipes (often personal) at Modi, they point out. And Modi, say BJP members and political analysts, can’t afford to be seen not cooperating with a leader who has secured a massive mandate for the second successive time on the back of his governance model.

Also Read: Why 2020 is a much bigger achievement for Arvind Kejriwal than 2015

A new Kejriwal

The Kejriwal of 2020 is not the Kejriwal of 2013 and 2015, when he sought to take PM Modi head on — even contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha election against him from Varanasi — while harbouring national ambitions. 

The Kejriwal of yore was constantly in activist mode, holding dharnas despite being the chief minister, locked in a war with the central government over distribution of powers in union territory Delhi.

“It was a good strategy to consolidate his footprint among his core voterbase, but, at one point, Kejriwal learnt that this will not work in the long run,” said political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay. “So, he changed strategy and focussed on delivery — bijli, paani, education — without confrontation with Modi.”

The fulfilment of Kejriwal’s promises over the next five years will involve bringing down pollution in Delhi — the air pollution that chokes the capital every year on the threshold of winter and the kind affecting the Yamuna.

Kejriwal has promised in his manifesto that he will take a dip in the Yamuna next year, but any cleanliness effort will require the active support of the central government as well as the Delhi civic bodies, currently led by the BJP. 

Sanitation is another area where Delhi will have to work closely with the central government, as is the rehabilitation of slum dwellers and smooth regularisation of unauthorised colonies.

“Kejriwal has matured in the last two years and he has shown great maturity in supporting [the scrapping of] Article 370 and construction of Ram temple, unlike the Congress,” said a BJP leader.

“He has not attacked Prime Minister Modi, knowing his popularity and goodwill. The central government is ready to cooperate if he shows maturity in his work without indulging in blame games.”

A second political analyst said Kejriwal knew how people threw out Sheila Dikshit after three terms despite the fact that she had been one of the best chief ministers of Delhi and changed the capital’s face. “After one point, anti-incumbency will dent Kejriwal too if he doesn’t deliver and gets entangled in distractions,” added Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a Delhi-based research institute.

However, even within the BJP, the consensus is that the cross is not Kejriwal’s to bear alone.

“The BJP can’t ignore and antagonise Delhi voters. His victory is on the basis of his governance model,” said a second BJP leader. “His victory is not a fluke, so we have to respect the mandate… Nationally, the BJP can’t afford to send the message that the central government is not cooperating with an elected chief minister who got such a huge mandate on governance,” the BJP leader added. “The Modi brand equity is more important.”

Shyam Jaju, the BJP in-charge for Delhi, said the central government “will fully cooperate with Kejriwal in developing Delhi as a world-class city”. 

“He should immediately implement the Modi government’s good schemes… A factor that served as a bone of contention between the Delhi and the union government.”

Also Read: Modi designed Kejriwal’s template for Delhi win years ago in Gujarat

‘The one thing Kejriwal shouldn’t do’

After his 2015 Delhi election sweep, Kejriwal made several forays to establish the AAP’s presence outside the capital. 

The AAP drew a blank in Gujarat and Goa, among other states, even as it emerged a distant second in the 2017 Punjab assembly election. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the AAP won all of one seat from the over 40 it contested, down from four in 2014.

In his victory speech Tuesday, Kejriwal told supporters, “This victory has given birth to a new kind of politics. It’s the politics of development… Only this kind of politics can take India ahead in the 21st century. It’s not just a victory for Delhi voters but also a win for Bharat mata.”

It is yet to be seen whether Kejriwal will once again attempt national outreach with his “Delhi model of governance”, as Modi did with Gujarat.

But experts say Kejriwal would be well advised to go easy on his national ambitions to hold off any rivalry with the BJP at the central level.

Kumar of CSDS said Kejriwal could continue ruling Delhi — like Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and Nitish Kumar in Bihar — without branching out into national politics. “He should wait for the right moment… I hope he will not repeat his past mistake,” the analyst added.

“Kejriwal tasted failure in Punjab, retained only one seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, got zero in Haryana and Delhi… if he thinks he can challenge Modi… it will be the biggest foolishness of Kejriwal,” said a BJP leader. “The brand equity of Modi on governance model is foolproof and Kejriwal can’t match him nationally.”

Also Read: Arvind Kejriwal’s win in Delhi can change Nitish Kumar’s election preparation in Bihar


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