Whose vote will Kejriwal cut into, Congress or BJP?

The big question doing the rounds in Delhi’s political circles is who will Arvind Kejriwal damage more - the Congress or the BJP?

Prima facie, it seems like it is the Congress that is bearing the brunt of India Against Corruption’s anti-graft crusade, the latest target being no less than Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra.

But with the Delhi elections due next year, and with Kejriwal targeting that opportunity as his first test, the BJP reckons it has something to worry about. Minus Kejriwal, the BJP could have hoped to benefit from Sheila Dikshit’s anti-incumbency. Now, the game is open.

Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

This was evident in the Kejriwal-BJP tussle during the power tariff agitation, where Team Kejriwal’s white Aam Aadmi caps were in contrast to BJP’s black Bijli Andolan. Vijay Goel had a tough time convincing everyone that he had been spearheading the anti-power tariff struggle against Sheila Dikshit all this while.

Goel is, in fact, fighting two battles - one against the public perception that Kejriwal is the real fighter for aam aadmi causes like power tariffs, and the other to convince the BJP leadership that he is the man to take on Sheila Dikshit and lead the party in the 2013 Delhi campaign.

Goel had a faceoff with Kejriwal three days ago and is still feeling the sting. Kejriwal, who was invited to Goel’s anti-power tariff protest, used the opportunity to ask the BJP some uncomfortable questions on the power tariff hike. He achieved his purpose of putting both Congress and BJP in the same bucket.

All’s fair in love or politics, is not it? Goel felt offended when Firstpost asked him this. He fumed: “Kejirwal misused a gentleman’s courtesy extended by me. He came uninvited. It was our stage and our people. He requested me to let him speak for two minutes. I extended the courtesy because my fight is against the Sheila Dikshit government. Any support in this regard is welcome. Instead he blasted us. That’s not fair. He has entered Delhi politics only a few days back. I have demanded an apology from him. I am told that he has responded by saying that I was like an elder brother.”

During his agitation, Kejriwal reconnected the power lines of two people whose power had been cut due to non-payment of bills. Two FIRs have been filed against the persons whose lines Kejriwal connected, but one of them has since paid his dues while the other has not.

Quite clearly, the arrival of Kejriwal has forced both BJP and Congress to wonder who will lose more from his entry, but there is one point of convergence between the two: both blame the media for making Kejriwal a hero to the Delhi aam aadmi.

Party spokespersons believe that if the media stops treating Kejriwal like a celebrity, his fortunes will plummet.

The Congress MP from West Delhi, Mahabal Mishra, a migrant from Madhubani in Bihar, has risen up the ladder by winning three assembly elections and finally a Lok Sabha seat from the Punjabi-dominated constituency. He says: “Let the Delhi elections come, and his bubble will burst. Here the fight has always been a straight one between BJP and Congress. So many parties have tried to succeed in Delhi but none have succeeded. Kejriwal and party can at best cut into the anti-Congress votes, not into Congress votes.”

He shied away from directly saying that Kejriwal will eat into BJP votes and that this will ultimately help the Congress. Many Congress leaders are of the same opinion and believe that Kejriwal will cut into the BJP vote and let Sheila Dikshit win again.

There is also quiet talk about Kejriwal’s relationship with Sandeep Diskshit, Congress’s East Delhi MP and Sheila Dikshit’s son. Sandeep has an NGO background and played the part of an interlocutor during Anna Hazare’s second Jan Lokpal dharna.

A senior functionary of the Delhi BJP echoed similar sentiments on Kejriwal. “He is going to play the role of spoiler or, as they say, `Vote Katua’ in Bihar. For now it looks like he is going to make inroads into the votes that could have come to the BJP and help the Congress. But once the media stops playing him up the way it is doing now, the game will change.”

But a minority view in the BJP is that Kejriwal will help build up the anti-Congress mood and ultimately help the BJP. “There is a distinct possibility that he will help in creating an anti-Congress atmosphere in the city. But when it comes to voting the people will realise that his party is not in a position to win so they will vote for the party which can offer an alternate government - the BJP.”

Voters in Delhi have, on various occasions, proved their unpredictability. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh contested only one election in his lifetime and lost to the BJP’s VK Malhotra in Delhi. Singh’s poll managers had then blamed his loss on some rumors spread against him.

BJP veteran LK Advani managed to win a Delhi seat narrowly against Rajesh Khanna. He subsequently left Delhi for the safer Gandhinagar in Gujarat. Former Minister Jagmohan, who has been considered an able administrator, lost from New Delhi. A Bihari migrant, Mahabal Mishra, to the surprise of many in his own party, won comfortably from West Delhi in 2009.

It won’t be easy for Kejriwal to convert interest into votes since every party needs huge logistical support during campaigning and on polling day. By a rough estimate, one needs 5-7 persons at each polling booth. This means a political party requires, by conservative estimates, about 25,000 workers on polling day in the national capital. Will Kejriwal have that kind of numbers? But then, the reforms introduced by the Election Commission are helping reduce the number of party workers needed to be present at polling stations.

Will Kejriwal have the appetite to hijack the opposition space from the BJP in the long run, as he did the other day with Vijay Goel? The answer to his success in Delhi lies here. His Congress and BJP rivals cite those dwindling numbers at the Mumbai and Jantar Mantar rallies in December last year when Team Anna tried to relaunch the Jan Lokpal movement with yet another fast. This proved to them that Kejriwal without media support can’t muster the numbers.

But neither party is sure who will ultimately benefit from Kejriwal’s gatecrashing their party in Delhi.