There was a dull predictability to Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation last week. The man had never wanted to become chief minister of Delhi. But when the Congress offered unconditional support, he had no choice but to form a government. Otherwise the BJP’s slogan, ‘A vote for AAP is a wasted vote’ would have stuck.
Even so, he tried his damnedest to get out of assuming office, even resorting to a hastily-improvised ‘poll’ of his supporters to ask if he should take the job. When his supporters urged him to assume office, he did so with a show of reluctance. Nevertheless, he recognised that as he was only going to be there for a short time, he might as well get some political capital out of it. And then, when he had found a suitable resignation issue, he proclaimed his own martyrdom.
But during his brief spell in office, Kejriwal made two important shifts in focus. The first has not gone unnoticed. Kejriwal and AAP were promoted initially by the TV news channels and lauded by the educated middle class as an alternative to the misgovernance of the UPA and the corruption of the existing political parties. Kejriwal used this middle-class support base much as he used Anna Hazare: Expedient to gain some prominence for himself but of no real use in the long run.
And so, just as he dumped Hazare when he no longer needed him, Kejriwal has abandoned the anchors who fawned over him and the educated middle-class people who believed he represented an alternative mode of governance.
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Instead he has focused on his own vote-bank: the urban poor, those who make their living in the unorganised sector such as street vendors, the residents of resettlement colonies and new entrants to the middle class who still remain on the very first rung. These are the people who gave AAP its mandate in the assembly elections. And judging by the opinion polls, they have been impressed by Kejriwal’s anarchic style of governance.
Many polls suggest that if another election is held for the Delhi assembly, AAP will get an overall majority.
So give Kejriwal credit for sagacity: He may have been a reluctant chief minister but he made the best use of the opportunity, cementing AAP’s status as Delhi’s leading party.
But it is a second shift in focus that is now becoming apparent. During the Anna movement, Kejriwal’s target was the Congress. He based the movement on the UPA’s corrupt ways and its refusal to accept his Lokpal Bill as a mechanism to punish corrupt politicians and officials. During that phase, the RSS sent volunteers to his rallies and the BJP hailed his crusade.
In recent weeks, however, Kejriwal seems to have written off the Congress. Periodically he delivers a few contemptuous kicks in the direction of party he vanquished in the assembly elections but his real targets are elsewhere. Increasingly, his rhetoric is anti-BJP and anti-Narendra Modi.
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Kejriwal’s current rhetoric emphasises that the BJP and the Congress are two sides of the same coin, that the BJP’s leaders are corrupt, and that Narendra Modi must be opposed. The teeming hundreds who gathered outside AAP’s headquarters at Hanuman Road to greet their hero after his resignation carried placards that called BJP leaders corrupt and shouted slogans promising that Narendra Modi would meet the same fate as Sheila Dikshit.
Consider also Kejriwal’s actions in his last days in office when he knew that he was on his way out. He filed an FIR against Mukesh Ambani and Reliance on the gas-pricing issue despite being assured that a) the matter was already before the courts, b) the Delhi state government had no locus standi in the issue and c) Kejriwal himself would soon be out of office so nobody would follow up on the Delhi government’s case anyway.
When he addressed his supporters after he resigned, it became clear what the game plan was. Ambani had backed the Congress for a decade, he claimed, but was now financing Narendra Modi. How else did Modi get the money for his private planes and campaign expenses?
Mukesh Ambani may or may not have shifted his focus from the Congress to Narendra Modi. But Kejriwal certainly has. It now seems clear that over the next few months his attack will be directed against the BJP and its leader.
Why is he doing this? My guess is that he recognises that Modi will be India’s next prime minister and that he will follow solidly pro-industry policies. At that stage, Kejriwal will attack him for being a stooge and crony of capitalists. He will play the politics of envy and tell those at the margins of our society that AAP alone can adequately safeguard their interests because the BJP and Modi are in the pockets of big business.
It is a theme he began harping on in his last days as chief minister when he played a cross between a revolutionary Che Guevara-like figure and a generous Santa Claus who forgave his supporters’ unpaid electricity bills. Kejriwal’s calculation is that the Congress now stands for nothing: not for governance, not for clean politics, not for the aspirations of the poor and not for economic reform.
He thinks that the major battle of the next few years will be over Narendra Modi’s centralised, pro-capitalist policies. And anybody who claims to oppose autocratic centralisation and speaks up for the little guy against the fat cats and their pet politicians will occupy the opposition space that a dithering Congress has vacated.
So that’s what the resignation is really about. Kejriwal knows he will win the state government in Delhi. But it is the central government that he is really after. And if he has to play a leftie in a muffler to get there, well then, that’s what he will do.
The views expressed by the author are personal