Modi vs Kejriwal: PM's silence could lead to his own political encirclement

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has taken to launching sallies against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from four different fronts. This signals that their conflict is going to be a fight to the finish between them. On one of these fronts, Kejriwal was compelled to open as a defensive measure, so to speak. This was because of the Centre’s attempt to circumscribe the Delhi government or, from another perspective, not to let it expand its turf.

The battle on this front is over the powers the Constitution vests in the city-state government, involving furious exchanges over interpretations of laws governing the arrangement between the Delhi government and the Centre’s representative, Lt Governor Najeeb Jung.

Kejriwal’s objective in this battle is to ensure that the BJP does not make inroads into his citadel of Delhi, nor hamstring his government from functioning effectively. Battles prompt rivals to engage in propaganda. Kejriwal seeks to project Modi as unforgiving of his rivals who trounce him, as also violating the spirit of federalism. The BJP, in turn, portrays Kejriwal as one who brooks no Constitutional limits, wishing to acquire power not legitimately his.

The battle on this front is desultory and will likely continue till 2019, when the country will choose its 17th Lok Sabha, unless the courts decide before it whether the Centre or the state’s interpretation of the Constitution is right.

In recent months, Kejriwal has opened three other fronts against Modi, widening the theatre of conflict to the point that it is appropriate to call it war. The second of four fronts has seen Kejriwal move away from the Opposition’s standard criticism of the ruling party, to firing stinging volleys against Modi. His tactics is to criticise both the Prime Minister’s policies and the Sangh Parivar’s ideology.

File photo of Modi and Kejriwal. PIB

File photo of Modi and Kejriwal. PIB

Thus, for instance, we have seen Kejriwal derisively describe the much-celebrated Standup India, Startup India as Sit Down India, Sleep India. He has been vociferous in protesting the new tax imposed on jewelers, as he had been against the curb on withdrawal from the provident fund before this policy was rolled back. Perhaps the most audacious of Kejriwal’s attacks on this front has been the manner in which he lit into Modi for inviting Pakistani investigators to probe the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base. Indeed, AAP’s hostility against Pakistan mimics the antipathy that the BJP would customarily demonstrate towards that country in its Opposition days.

Not only did AAP volunteers protest in Pathankot during the visit of Pakistani sleuths there, but Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra transcended the bounds of propriety in calling Modi an ISI agent. And when Pakistan claimed that there was no proof its own involvement in Pathankot, even suggesting India might have mounted it, Kejriwal said it was a slap on India’s face, “thanks to our PM.”

On 5 April, Kejriwal tweeted, “Some channels saying Pak backstabs again – Did these channels believe that ISI would finally agree that ISI was involved (?)” He referred to Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan in December and wondered, rather condescendingly, whether he inquired from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif why he had organised the attack on Pathankot. Kejriwal added, “There has to be a deal between the two and we demand that the PM make this deal public.”

The AAP’s over-the-top attack on Modi’s Pak policy risks alienating the ‘doves’, who are mostly Leftish and voted in substantially large numbers for the party in Delhi – and likely to do so in Punjab as well.


Kejriwal has seemingly turned hawkish on Pakistan because he seeks to exploit the disenchantment among BJP voters regarding Modi’s Pakistan policy. Before he became Prime Minister, Modi had triggered hope among his supporters that he would somehow stare down Pakistan. Their hope now stands dashed.

It to them Kejriwal is addressing as he takes potshots at Modi’s Pakistan policy. AAP’s own surveys show a degree of overlap between its voters and the BJP’s, many of whom opted for Modi at the Centre and Kejriwal in Delhi. He hopes to persuade them that there exists a chasm between Modi as Opposition leader and Modi as Prime Minister, that he is not true to his word.

This tactics of Kejriwal was also evident in his approach to the recent controversy at the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar. He tweeted saying that for the crime of chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai, the BJP government (because of its alliance with the PDP) “beat up students and lodged FIR.” Another tweet of Kejriwal pointed out that in Kashmir the BJP beats up those who say Bharat Mata Ki Jai, and in rest of India who don’t chant the same slogan get beaten up.
Kejriwal’s objective on this front is to wean away the middle class supporters of Modi, hoping they would rally behind AAP. He is telling them that Modi has failed to satisfy their craving for militant nationalism.

The risk of alienating his own Leftish supporters in the middle class is counter-balanced through increasingly sharp attacks on the Sangh’s ideology than before. On Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, Kejriwal tweeted, “Modi is not India, RSS is not Sansad (Parliament), Manusmriti not Constitution.” Then again, “Let them teach Savarkar, we will teach Ambedkar.”

AAP also recently invoked the popular adage – moonh meain Ram aur bagal mein churi – to describe the Sangh. Significantly, the Delhi government filed cases against TV channels accused of running fake videos of the 9 February meet in JNU, prompting even Kejriwal’s bête noir, Prashant Bhushan, to tweet, “Kudos to AAP” government.

The third front Kejriwal has opened is to question the integrity of Modi, evident from his insistence that he should offer for public scrutiny his BA degree from Delhi University.


Of all the battles on different fronts, this one is most engaging for the public, largely because it involves no complexities of interpretations. Either the Prime Minister did his BA from Delhi University or he did not.

Kejriwal hasn’t been silenced even though Modi’s degree was published in a national newspaper. He wants Delhi University to upload it on its website. It is an unprecedented demand – degrees are not open to scrutiny by the public.

However, the University’s invoking of the privacy clause is unlikely to wash with the doubting public. After all, a mere piece of paper can pose no security threat to anyone. Delhi’s notorious grapevine is already working overtime.

It is the fourth front which, politically speaking, is perhaps the most interesting. It has AAP putting in its crosshairs both the BJP and the Congress. It emerged noticeably as soon as the Westland scam rocked the nation.

This can be gleaned from Kejriwal’s tweets. On 27 April, Kejriwal said – Shouldn’t those named in the Italy court order be immediately arrested and interrogated? Got the CBI to raid me, but not the Congress. Another tweet of his portrayed BJP president Amit Shah “standing with folded stands” and requesting Sonia Gandhi to disclose how much money she took. Kejriwal continued, “Is this the way to carry out investigation?”

Kejriwal’s objective on the fourth front is to ensure AAP retains its identity of being both anti-BJP and anti-Congress. It is to also convey to the people that the BJP and the Congress may snipe at each other, but don’t go the whole hog against each other.

His tactics of not letting people forget about the corrupt past of the Congress seeks to enhance the cost for those parties which are mulling an alliance with the Congress. This is linked to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In that election, Modi will remain the defining issue. None of the non-BJP parties, including the Congress, are in a position to win a majority on its. Through the four fronts Kejriwal has opened against the Prime Minister, he possibly hopes to emerge as the predominant anti-Modi symbol, a status one of the Gandhis would wish to claim. It ties in neatly with AAP’s decision to expand out of Delhi and go national.

Modi hasn’t personally countered Kejriwal’s attacks, presumably believing that any engagement with his doughty rival would only enhance his stature. But his generals have engaged AAP. It is seen as Modi’s style of retaliation. For instance, this was how the CBI’s raid on Kejriwal’s office last year was popularly perceived. Modi’s generals can’t be as effective in waging the war as he can be. Perhaps Modi has chosen silence over entering into verbal jousts with Kejriwal because he possesses an enviable arsenal as Prime Minister. But exercise of brute power in political battles only helps the underdog. (Remember the Emergency)

It is possible Modi’s silence could lead to his political encirclement. To belatedly break out of it through use of power only will only make him unpopular and weaken him, of which there are already early signs. The gains of it may not necessarily accrue to Kejriwal, but the loss is bound to be Modi’s and his party.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.


Published Date: May 09, 2016 07:38 am | Updated Date: May 09, 2016 07:40 am



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