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Not Modi, Mamata or KCR, Kejriwal bigger threat to Congress now — 3 takeaways from assembly polls

Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party stormed to power in Punjab Thursday, leading in over 90 of the state's 117 seats as of late afternoon. The party is already in power in Delhi.

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New Delhi: That ‘Brand Modi’ is still bullish is a given. Thursday’s poll verdict only reinforced it. Be it a public health crisis like Covid-19, economic distress or a national security concern, Modi seems to have become the go-to man for voters.

The more intense the crisis, the more value Brand Modi fetches.   

But there are three other important takeaways from this round of assembly elections:

AAP a bigger threat to Congress, not BJP

On Tuesday, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Somnath Bharti lashed out at Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, calling him “arrogant” and “Chhota Modi”.

There was no apparent provocation as such. Or, probably there was. KCR has been proactively meeting chief ministers and leaders of regional parties to forge a non-Congress, non-BJP front. He has kept Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal out of the consultation process. 

So has his West Bengal counterpart, Mamata Banerjee. She also pitched the Trinamool Congress as a third alternative in Goa, unmindful of the AAP’s claims there.    

The AAP legislator’s attack was on KCR, but it had a veiled message for all — Mamata Banerjee, M.K. Stalin, Sharad Pawar and others in the Opposition camp. The message was: Kejriwal has arrived, take a bow. 

Bharti was speaking a day after the exit polls predicted the AAP’s historic win in Punjab. With Delhi and now Punjab under his belt, Kejriwal is now the numero uno in the non-BJP, non-Congress camp. Others have a choice — either stand behind him or step aside. 

But it’s Rahul Gandhi who must take this message more seriously. Modi-versus-Rahul is a settled debate. But Congress leaders were hopeful about the post-Modi era. After all, Rahul has settled himself in the role of Modi’s only challenger, no matter for how long he must wait for his turn for the top post. Other Opposition leaders were confined to their home states, posing little challenge to the principal challenger nationally. 

Thursday’s verdict in Punjab has changed the scenario now. Trust Kejriwal not to let this momentum go waste. He will focus on two poll-bound states in November-December — Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh — before moving on to the next. The BJP’s core voters won’t be the AAP’s primary target at this stage. 

It’s the non-BJP votes — around 62 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha election — that Kejriwal will seek out. These voters must be growing disillusioned with the repeated failures of Opposition leaders to dislodge the BJP from power — the Centre and in many states, say Gujarat. With two states/UTs under his belt and the Delhi model to showcase, Kejriwal may give them better hopes. That’s what makes the AAP a bigger challenger to the Congress.

Also Read: Comedian Bhagwant Mann set to be Punjab’s first AAP CM, faces 3 broad challenges

Emergence of No. 3 in BJP

Since September 2013, when Modi was declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the top two positions in the ruling party have been fixed, no matter the formal designations. Thursday’s poll verdict catapults Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to the No. 3 position — for the time being, at least. 

A two-term and longest-serving BJP CM of India’s largest state with 80 Lok Sabha seats carries immense political heft. Yogi may not be an organisation man but his popularity transcends UP. BJP MPs from even the South concede this. 

To top it all, he has become the blue-eyed boy of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Yogi is known to be an ambitious leader. Remember how he had got his supporters to make slogans in his favour outside the venue in Lucknow where BJP MLAs were meeting to choose the CM candidate in 2017. He may not be satisfied with the No. 3 slot for long.

End of BSP’s Dalit politics

The dismal show of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab — states with a sizeable Scheduled Caste population — puts a big question mark on Dalit politics. Although finer details are yet to come, it’s clear that the BSP’s core Jatav votebank has shifted away and the BJP is the main beneficiary. The BSP was becoming electorally irrelevant in other states, anyway. In UP, the BSP’s voteshare has been declining in every election — 30 per cent in 2007, 26 per cent in 2012, and 22 per cent in 2017. It’s set to go further down in this election. 

Dalits finally switching to the BJP — as much because of the pull factor as the absence of an alternative — will have a significant, long-term bearing on UP politics in future, much to the BJP’s advantage. 

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also read: Kejriwal’s AAP got 3 things right in Punjab this time, starting with Bhagwant Mann for CM


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