By Sushil Kutty
Ten years is a long time in politics. Ahead of the watershed 2014 general elections, the two main players in the reckoning were Gujarat-model famous Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi whose sole claim to political relevance was dynasty. Also trying to edge in sideways, thanks to a ‘revolution’ against corruption, was Arvind Kejriwal of the newly minted political outfit, the common man’s ‘Aam Aadmi Party’.
A decade later, things haven’t changed. The same three musketeers, except that Kejriwal is still striving to edge in sideways. Narendra Modi earned his spurs to be the BJP’s “PM face” by dint of being the BJP’s only twice-elected Prime Minister. And for the Congress, Rahul Gandhi is its twice-born dynasty-ordained “PM face.” Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge’s only assignment is to get the combined Opposition to agree.
Arvind Kejriwal has neither Modi’s “PM credentials” nor Rahul Gandhi’s lineage. Does that explain Kejriwal’s strident avatar of recent days? For that, it must be assumed that the AAP convener believes this is his chance; perhaps, the only chance, and, maybe, the last chance at that. Also, Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks the most vulnerable in nine years and allegations of corruption have always won elections, and could again!
There was Bofors. And 2G, and the ‘Koyla Ghotala’. Now, there is the “Modani-Hindenburg” and the alleged sell-off of India to the highest bidder, which can also become a plum election issue just like Bofors and 2G-Coal had. Ten years on, Modi is the establishment while Rahul Gandhi, and Arvind Kejriwal, are the anti-establishment. In 2014, the anti-establishment tag worked for Narendra Modi. Ten years on, it could work for Arvind Kejriwal provided Rahul Gandhi is edged out sideways!
Like somebody wrote 10 years ago, “space has always existed for a leader who wants to ‘shake up’ the system”. Arvind Kejriwal considers himself “anarchist”, and self-styled shake-up artist, the made-to-order ‘change agent’! It can also be said with a degree of certainty that Kejriwal knows Rahul Gandhi has grown in stature after Bharat Jodo Yatra and that Rahul Gandhi has worked his way up to become the centre-piece of the Opposition’s anti-Modi campaign.
Compared to Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the AAP convener is at a disadvantage. Okay, granted, Kejriwal is Delhi Chief Minister, and overlord of Punjab, but that doesn’t make him the “PM face” of the combined Opposition when the Opposition is just now showing signs of unity. And that due to Rahul Gandhi! The unity signals are a sign that Rahul Gandhi has taken pole-position against Modi.
Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Parliament was not only ill-timed but also suicidal for the establishment. For Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi is now accepted “PM face” of the Opposition, and he most-likely resents it. For, his own chances of appropriating the coveted tag have receded. Arvind Kejriwal conveyed his anger at Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification, but only the naïve or a fool would fall for that.
Arvind Kejriwal, behind his frumpy dressing style, and his crude sense of humour, is ambitious, somebody who keeps his cards close to his chest, and undoubtedly must have several chestnuts in the fire, including the one to remove all rivals, potential and real. Kejriwal is acutely aware that he is up against insurmountable odds. The Opposition wouldn’t make him its “PM face”. And despite claims of AAP becoming a national party, the Election Commission of India has so far refused to give it in writing.
Also, just like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cannot openly come out in criticism of Donald Trump, Arvind Kejriwal too cannot openly take on Rahul Gandhi for the Opposition’s “PM face”. So, Kejriwal has sharpened his barbs only for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Otherwise Kejriwal and Modi have a shared contempt for Rahul Gandhi, which the Congress is fully aware of.
In 2014, Kejriwal chased Modi all the way to Varanasi to contest against the BJP’s 2014 “PM face”. He lost, but since then, Kejriwal had made it his business to project himself as the lone one-on-one rival of ‘Modi-the-Invincible’, the man who will take Narendra Modi’s place one day. Therefore, Arvind Kejriwal’s hankering to be the top headline day after day. Therefore, the hyped-up stridency. Therefore, the loud attempts at political mimicry. Therefore, Kejriwal’s unalloyed attacks on Modi’s educational qualifications, et al.
It is another thing that Rahul Gandhi, whose Bharat Jodo Yatra was a clincher, is the frontrunner for the Opposition’s “PM face”. Rahul Gandhi’s exposures of the Modi Government made from “foreign soil” took the wind out of Modi’s sails and were a warning for Arvind Kejriwal that things weren’t going his way. His hopes of getting a clear shot at the Prime Minister’s post were going up in smoke. So, Kejriwal will risk getting hauled up in a Gujarat court. Kejriwal will dig into the party fund to pay the Rs 25,000 penalty. The question the Opposition, especially the Congress, should ask is: “Why is Arvind Kejriwal so strident, how sticky is the Opposition’s new ‘Rahul Glue’ against Arvind Kejriwal?” (IPA Service)