Eyeing big gains, the Aam Aadmi Party and its chief Arvind Kejriwal are seeking to eat into Congress’ space as the main opposition party by constantly provoking the BJP, experts say.
The party’s sudden declaration of support on Monday for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been the target of most of its tirades, took everyone by surprise.
The initial reaction in the BJP was of jubilation for having forced Kejriwal to fall in line. But, the support came with a rider.
With a straight face, Delhi’s ruling party said the army’s surgical strikes were a brave move but the Prime Minister should disclose facts to counter Pakistan’s propaganda that no strikes took place.
Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh and Sanjay Nirupam, too, raised doubts over the “surgical strikes” against militants preparing to infiltrate into India from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Singh demanded that the government release video footage to counter UN and Pakistan claims that the cross-LoC raid did not take place.
“The BJP is trying to take advantage out of the army’s achievements,” Nirupam said. The Mumbai Congress chief also accused the BJP of chest-thumping by putting up hoardings in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, hailing its leadership for the surgical strikes, an accusation repeated by other opposition parties.
But the Congress high command stepped in, toning down its leaders’ statements. The party said its government, too, had carried out cross-border attacks but didn’t publicise them even as it gave out three dates -- between 2011 and 2014 – when Indian troops crossed the line of control.
For the Congress, it is necessary not to let Modi walk away by creating an impression that September 29 operation was a first.
“The way political parties are behaving right now is clearly driven by the elections around the corner,” said Prof Balveer Arora, political scientist and former pro-VC of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur are due for elections in early 2017.
“The BJP rises to the bait thrown by AAP because the Delhi election defeat still weighs on its mind,” he said.
AAP is going up against the BJP and its NDA allies and the Congress in Punjab as well as Goa. A poor showing would be a huge blow to its national ambitions.
“Every time a new party has made gains, it has done so in the space vacated by the Congress,” Arora said.
As the BJP attacked its leaders for questioning the army operation, AAP has turned hawkish to burnish its nationalist credentials.
On Tuesday, it held protests outside the Pakistan high commission. Senior party leader and Delhi minister Kapil Mishra lashed out at Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti at a tourism event while also targeting Kashmiris for treating “terrorists as tourists”.
A day later, Mishra targeted BJP chief Amit Shah for “running a government in J&K with those who have a soft corner for terrorists”.
On social media and in TV debates, AAP dominates the opposition space, experts say. “The Congress is stepping up mass contact but its presence in the media is overshadowed by AAP. The Congress’s work on the ground should bring it long-term gains,” said Prof Badri Narayan, a teacher at JNU.
For AAP, however, short-term gains are what will decide its longevity in the fiercely competitive world of Indian politics.