So, Narendra Modi has Arvind Kejriwal on his mind.
The PM may not be spending sleepless nights yet about the maverick politician with a matching ability for showmanship, hyperbole and prime time drama, but he appears to be looking over the shoulder once in a while.
Modi is still the Usain Bolt and Kejriwal the tortoise of Indian politics. But, if you remember the moral of a famous childhood parable, there could be consequences of taking your eyes off even the weakest opponent.
Park that thought in mind as news emerges that when Modi met Goa chief minister Lakshmikant Parsekar, he wanted a heads-up on Kejriwal.
"Prime Minister asked me about (the) recent Kejriwal (public) meeting and if (it will have) any future impact...(and) I said...no," Parsekar told reporters in Panaji after returning from New Delhi where he met Modi.
Goa is next on AAP's radar. Even as the party is locked in a triangular fight in Punjab, where it has a clear shot at power, the AAP is trying to make inroads in the coastal state and become a major player before the Assembly elections scheduled in March.
For the AAP to succeed, two conditions are necessary. One, presence of the Congress as either the principal opposition or the party in power. And two, voter's disenchantment with the BJP or its ally. In Goa, both these enabling factors persist.
Ground reports suggest the Congress party, like everywhere else in the country, is in chaos. It is leaderless, effete and ineffective. Its traditional voters are looking at other alternatives and AAP has become the biggest beneficiary of the churn.
The BJP starts with an advantage in an election over its rivals only when it has the option of combining Amit Shah's Hindutva with Modi's vikas. But, in Goa, the party can't play its Hindutva card because of the state's syncretic culture, influence of Catholic Church and its primarily urban demography. So, it can seek votes only on the basis of its performance and promises, instead of raising the temperature through emotive issues.
In short: Goa has the familiar script of the Congress decline creating a vacuum and the BJP not entering the polls with a guaranteed voter base. A third player can always step in.
To complicate matters, the BJP and the RSS, are busy wrestling each other on the issue of the language to be adopted in schools. In 2012, the BJP and Sangh had led a campaign for promoting "regional languages" as the medium of instruction in schools. But, after coming to power, the BJP backtracked on its promise because of pressure from parents who were against the decision. The RSS is now angry with the state government for reneging on the promise; the heartburn has led to open war and threats of boycott.
AAP has jumped into the fray with its typical mix of door-to-door campaign and high-voltage campaign on local issues. It has supported a ban on casinos, a long-standing demand of the voters, and opposed government-interference in the choice of the medium of instruction adopted by schools. Both the issues are resonating on the ground.
This is not to argue that the AAP is the frontrunner in Goa. The BJP is still the party of choice for a majority of the GSP (Gaur-Saraswat-Brahmin) voters in the state. This group of voters is hugely influential. But, the Catholic Church, which is considered an opinion-leader in the state may not help it this time the way it did in the past by exhorting people to vote against corruption.
Perhaps the noise and murmurs from the ground have reached Modi's ears too. And that's why he had AAP on his mind in his meeting with Parsekar.
Consider now the bigger picture. In 2017, elections in four states would be closely watched. The big-ticket drama would, of course, be Uttar Pradesh. But Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand would also add to the theatre.
What if the AAP goes on to win Punjab and Goa, Mayawati wins UP and the Congress hold on to Uttarakhand? If that happens, the tortoise would start fancying his chances of taking on Bolt.