The Delhi municipal poll results offer a big lesson to the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. That is, if the IITian doesn’t choose to look the other way and stick to his common refrain about faulty electronic voting machines (EVMs), once an apolitical technology.
His takeaway from the MCD poll results and from the recent Rajouri Garden bypoll outcome is that one can’t be a chief minister, a pivot of power, and an anti-system sloganeer, too. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi tried it out long before the former income tax officer-turned-politician did, but such oxymorons make ordinary citizens only confused and skeptical.
To be fair to the CM, his government did achieve moderate success in bringing health centres -- called mohalla clinics -- to people’s doorsteps, as also in giving free water to a section of voters and in reducing power bills marginally; in fact, down to zero for some households.
But he took populism to another level in these MCD polls, even promising to abolish house tax. Some people might have welcomed it with a sigh: if only the government of Delhi had the powers to, say, abolish income tax.
That’s where the line started blurring between the AAP, the symbol of alternative politics, and old, establishment parties; between Kejriwal who wielded a broom to cleanse politics and run-of-the-mill politicians whose dishonesty is supposed to be a given fact.
In the last assembly elections in Varanasi, one often heard tales about ‘Ashwashan Mishra’ -- a Congress candidate who never said no for anything to anyone. Like him and other typical politicians, Kejriwal is never found wanting in giving hopes to people, not modest with claims like eliminating all “mafias” in Delhi, and not very subtle in delivering messages – “Vote for the BJP and be responsible for your children falling prey to chikungunya....”
It’s nobody’s argument that all cases registered by the Delhi police or the CBI against AAP legislators are based on merits. But Kejriwal’s and his AAP colleagues’ constant complaints of political vendetta might evoke only cynicism; after all, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Mamata Banerjee, Virbhadra Singh and the ilk did the same against different regimes at the Centre.
Delhi voters have other things to mind, too. The victim narrative doesn’t work with the electorate, not any more. Various surveys have suggested that much of Narendra Modi’s personality cult is built around his image as a strong, decisive leader -- one who takes the fight to his enemy camp, instead of whimpering about rivals’ superior manipulations and crying hoarse about the absence of ethics.
Kejriwal projects himself as Modi’s alternative at the national level, but for people to take him seriously as a contender and not a pretender, the Delhi CM has to first make Delhi what Modi made Gujarat -- a model for the rest of the country to look up to.
As it is, people have already started recalling how Sheila Dikshit transformed