Arvind Kejriwal's tenure as Delhi Chief Minister is actually one big, sustained, high-pitch campaign for the post that he truly covets — the Prime Minister's chair.
Consider that right now, the Aam Admi Party is little more than a regional power. Kejriwal has no footprint outside New Delhi. For a PM aspirant, that presents a challenge. More so when it comes to taking on Narendra Modi, the leader of a party with a massive national footprint.
His quest for the 7 Race Course Road office, therefore, makes it imperative for Kejriwal to constantly brand and rebrand his image. His latest mass interactive outreach 'Talk To AK', an hour-long monthly session the first edition of which kicked off on Sunday, is one more step in that direction.
Events such as these are tailored to serve some crucial ends. One, Kejriwal knows that media will instantly compare his initiative with Modi's Mann Ki Baat, tacitly placing him as 'Modi's equal' in the national consciousness. Two, it will help him stay relevant at a time when the AAP is gearing up for Assembly elections in Goa, Punjab, Gujarat and other states. Three, it will create more hype around the Delhi CM and place him ahead of regional satraps such as Nitish Kumar in the race to challenge Modi despite the fact that the Bihar CM is probably a better administrator and heads the government of an important state, not a Union Territory.
As a politician, Kejriwal's strategy is astute.
Problem lies in the fact that it is not enough for the AAP supremo to project himself as a national leader. He feels a curious urge to pose as the hero of a morality play perched permanently atop his high horse. That is where his moves fail to pass the smell test of ethics and he ends up repeatedly exposing himself.
Expelling Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav after claiming that he was against "high command culture" in politics; attempting to retrospectively exempt 21 AAP MLAs from disqualification provisions by amending the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act; the handling of Jitender Tomar, Rajendra Kumar issues are just a few instances where the 'hero' has failed to live up to the standards of morality that he demands from others.
In fact, even his rage against Modi is fake.
Firstpost has argued in the past how Kejriwal's seemingly visceral hatred for Narendra Modi and frequent vituperative statements against the PM are also part of an ingenuous strategy to remain on top of the news cycle.
Attacking Modi is the easiest and most efficient way of doing it. It is sure to be carried in the media, both mainstream and social. And any backlash from the PM's chair will immediately give Kejriwal the chance to play victim. He will get more reason to paint himself as the "cornered crusader" whom Modi is "determined to crush using the might of state".
Talk To AK is essentially carrying forward this concept of forcefully projecting Kejriwal as "Modi's equal", if not even bigger in stature.
Consider that even as Kejriwal and his team were essentially copying PM's concept of addressing the nation through radio show Mann Ki Baat, it was made to appear as if Talk To AK is a superior idea because it is, as AAP claims, "is a dialogue, a two-way conversation" unlike PM's 'monologue'.
The clear message is this: "Modiji only makes people listen to his voice, whereas I, Shri Arvind Kejriwal, allow people to talk to me and respond to them also."
So through the hosting of this social media outreach, Kejriwal becomes this magnanimous leader who is not afraid of taking "tough questions" because he has "nothing to hide".
Talk To AK hence has little to do with the stated purpose that Kejriwal "will take the opportunity to apprise people of AAP govt's work and initiatives". It is rather a thinly veiled political campaign to claim that he is a better and more 'open' leader than even Modi.
But if this was indeed the message, Kejriwal seems to have scored yet another self goal of duplicity.
Maan Ki Baat, for instance, has no claims of being an interactive show. Modi selectively takes up a few questions during his address. Talk To AK, however, was billed as a real-time "hour-long live interactive session with people" where Kejriwal will take questions through Twitter, Facebook, phone calls and text messages.
In a recent report, a senior Delhi government official told Times of India that "for a long time, the media team of the CM (Kejriwal) was working on the project. The government has launched a dedicated website — 'talktoak.com' — through which people can directly ask the questions."
But it is not clear, at least after the first session on 7 July, if Kejriwal indeed answered all questions in real time or if it was a careful selection of questions by music composer Vishal Dadlani who was moderating the event. Kejriwal sat beside him with deputy CM Manish Sisodia in tow.
— Dilip K. Pandey (@dilipkpandey) July 17, 2016
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A report in IBNLive also raises questions on whether the "live" session was actually "scripted". In the video which has gone viral, Dadlani and Kejriwal seem to be rehearsing the session.
Before the session was aired finally on Sunday, Dadlani, a known AAP backer, told Catchnews in an interview that the event would have "nothing to do with Modi."
"It's not a "talk show" at all. It's a forum, where AK will take questions from people at large. I'm only there as the voice to those questions… This has nothing to do with Modi ji at all. This is between Arvind Kejriwal and the people who have reposed faith in him and the AAP revolution."
What we saw instead after an hour of monologue, in which Kejriwal listed his government’s achievements, was the same old template of Modi bashing and victimhood narrative.
“In PM’s eyes there is only one corrupt CM in the country. They want to break us. They enter into settings with other parties…
“Have FIRs been filed against Robert Vadra or Sonia Gandhi or Shivraj Singh Chouhan? They are not scared of me, they are scared of my honesty. The full police force is after us”.
“The Centre is working like the British used to treat the freedom fighters. I have told MLAs this is the second freedom struggle,” Kejriwal said.
That's not all. Some of Kejriwal's claims also seemed at odds with those of senior AAP leaders. The first question which Kejriwal took up for answering was one about AAP's huge advertisement budget for which the party has come under sharp criticism.
“There is no comparison with the RSS when it comes to spreading rumours. We have only spent Rs 75 crore on advertising and not Rs.526 crore as claimed by many,” justified Kejriwal.
But only recently, AAP leader Ashutosh had defended the Rs 500 crore ad budget in an NDTV column titled "AAP's 500-Crore Ad Budget is Far From Excessive".
Did the AAP forget to do its homework?