Rajnath Singh thinks there is no threat to the BJP from Arvind Kejriwal. He is wrong. The Congress is no longer the BJP’s biggest problem. Narendra Modi should now start seriously worrying about Arvind Kejriwal.
For the past few months, Modi has been raging against the Congress and its leaders. But the BJP seems to have missed the real lesson of the recent Vidhan Sabha election: The Congress is dead. Modi’s mission has been accomplished. He needs to stop, think and take note of the new challenge.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s success in Delhi and the public reaction to it has established Kejriwal as the new hope of India, the spot Modi was occupying just a few weeks ago.
Politics of anger has given way to politics of hope. After the Vidhan Sabha elections, it has become clear to voters that the Congress is no longer the force it was. Its demise is certain. So, people have already started looking beyond the Congress now. The question that everybody is asking today is this: Is Modi the only option in the post-Congress era?
Till the Vidhan Sabha polls, the AAP was just a subject of curiosity. Except for those who voted for it, nobody believed it could form the government in Delhi. Now that it has happened, people have suspended their disbelief. They now believe that if Delhi can, India can too.
Kejriwal has a lot going for him.
He is not just a politician or a chief minister any more. Kejriwal has attained the status of the moral and intellectual leader of a huge section of India. Modi may be a mass leader, a proven administrator, a master tactician and a great orator, but when it comes to being the country’s guiding light, he can’t compete with Kejriwal.
The problem with Modi is that he can’t be Kejriwal. Kejriwal, on the other hand, has the opportunity to claim everything that is good about Modi. The BJP leader’s past, in spite of the clean chit he got recently, is his biggest weakness. Kejriwal’s past record, in contrast, is now his biggest strength. Notice the irony: While Modi is trying to deviate from his controversial history, Kejriwal is getting ready to live up to his legend.
Modi’s other problem is that he is unacceptable to a significant portion of the electorate. There are people who would never vote for Modi even if he gets clean chits from every possible court or expresses his anguish over 2002 in a million words. Kejriwal, on the other hand, has no such problem. Unlike Modi, he is not seen as a divisive leader and doesn’t evoke strong likes and dislikes, at least not today.
It is apparent that Kejriwal is now setting the agenda with his ideals, ideas, promises and symbolism. Others are just playing catch-up. The focus has suddenly shifted from Modi. People are now watching Kejriwal with great curiosity and expectations.
The BJP and the Congress are hoping that Kejriwal would fail. But what if he succeeds? If Kejriwal delivers on some of his promises and creates a difference, he would suddenly emerge as competition for Modi and his biggest poll planks: Development and good governance.
If and when the AAP decides to expand outside Delhi, the BJP will have to face a new headache. In most of the north Indian states, Kejriwal’s party can emerge as an alternative to the Congress, throwing it out even before the election. When that happens, the contest would be between the BJP and the AAP, a scenario Modi may have not considered yet while focussing all his energy on the Congress.
A large section of voters rooting for Modi is from among people who are angry with the Congress. Till recently they had no choice but to vote for the BJP to defeat the Congress. What happens if the election becomes a choice between Modi and Kejriwal?
This doesn’t mean that the next election will be a replica of the polls in Delhi. Outside the national capital, Kejriwal and his team do not even have a presence. They have very little time to start and build up a team before May. In Delhi, the AAP got almost a year to become a viable option. It has just three months to register its presence in the other states. But it isn’t impossible either. If the AAP can do it in Delhi, replicating the story in other parts of India would not be impossible.
If his government and its populist agenda succeed in Delhi, if Kejriwal implements some of his promises, if he retains his position on the podium of morality, ethics and honesty and if his party manages to mount a challenge outside Delhi, Kejriwal would become difficult to stop.
Beware, Mr Modi.