Arvind Kerjriwal has a go at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, yet again! This time it’s over the latter’s academic record. He has written to the Chief Information Commissioner, asking him to make the educational qualification of the prime minister public.
If you responded to the news headlines about the same with a mild shake of the head and a smile, and moved on to the next story quickly, don’t fret about missing the whole text. Most of us did exactly that. Kejriwal has become so predictable with his criticism of the prime minister that it has lost its novelty value now. A street smart politician, he himself won’t be unaware of that.
However, beyond such routine jibes, a lot other things are happening in the Aam Aadmi Party. In the wider political context of the country these things are interesting. For example, the party has finally shed its inhibition about expanding its political footprint beyond Delhi.
The party has announced office-bearers for its top decision-making bodies. The representation in these reflect the party’s target states, both immediate and long-term. The party has invested a lot of energy in creating a mass base in Punjab already. The fact that five members of the national executive are from the state shows that Punjab, which goes to polls early next year, will remain the priority area for the party. Goa, Maharashtra and Haryana are likely to be the next target states.
The timing for going national could not be more right for AAP. The vacuum created in the national opposition space after the 2014 general election continues. The Congress suffered a humiliating loss, ending up with only 44 seats in the election. Yet, with a shade above 19 percent of the total vote share it remained, on paper at least, the only national alternative to the BJP.
It was expected that the party would strike back and present itself as a strong ideological voice against the BJP. Two years on, the party remains exactly how it was, confused and rudderless. It is yet to find a leader who would be a match to Narendra Modi. Worse, it is still under attack for it's share of cases in this summer of scandals.
The others who could have filled the vacuum are regional players such as Nitish Kumar. After his spectacular victory in Bihar, it was expected that he would move into the national space quickly and provide a robust counter to the Modi narrative, both in terms of personality and ideology.
He is still in the process of finding allies beyond Bihar to bolster his pan-nation presence. Regional satraps, such as Mamata Banerjee, are too tied up in their home states to aim national at this point. Thus, it is the best time for AAP to expand.
With the BJP’s support base more or less solid now, it can expand only at the cost of the Congress. In Delhi, it grew at the cost of the party, weaning away its traditional vote banks, such as the Muslims. It also managed to become the magnet for anti-BJP votes.
This would be the script for other states too. In Punjab, it is expected to mark a strong presence by cutting into Congress votes and that of the Akali Dal too. It may not emerge as a winner, but AAP is in the process of creating a solid permanent vote base in the state.
A similar change in equations is likely to repeat in Goa, and states where the BJP and the Congress are in a direct fight. It could be a matter of time before AAP decided to target Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and even Gujarat.
Politics abhors a vacuum. With a leader in Kejriwal who comes across as different from the run-of-the-mill kind, AAP is likely to move in fast.