AAP wins Bawana bypoll: Arvind Kejriwal lives to fight another day; reality check for BJP

Arvind Kejriwal should be really grateful to the voters of Delhi. When he seemed to be down and out, they have given him a new life by voting his party to an impressive win in the Bawana byelection on Monday.

The Delhi chief minister should thank his stars for the victory. The Aam Aaadmi Party (AAP) appeared set for oblivion after the string of defeats in the Punjab Assembly election, the Rajouri Garden by-poll and the elections for Delhi's municipalities. Bawana has ensured he will live to fight another day. It will help him find both his voice and confidence.

Arvind Kejriwal AAP. Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The AAP's victory by an impressive margin is important for two reasons: One, it is one of the rare instances of the BJP not just losing an election but also lagging in the third place in several rounds before coming a distant second. Since Bawana is a rural constituency close to Haryana, it gives a sense of the mood of the electorate in areas far from the sound and fury of television and social media.

Two, it once again underlines the importance of Kejriwal as an anti-BJP force. Since the Opposition is trying to put together a coalition of parties to take on the BJP, it would be forced by the Bawana result to rethink its strategy of keeping the AAP out of the united front. Someday soon, the Congress will be forced to set aside its hubris, bury its differences with Kejriwal and consider the futility of a coalition without the AAP.

Many factors decided the outcome in Bawana. Many times in the past, Delhi's voters have shown their reluctance to back renegades and deserters (bhagoras). This was evident in the result of the Rajouri Garden bypoll, where voters destroyed the AAP for its decision of asking Jarnail Singh to quit and contest in Punjab. Voters responded by making the AAP lose its deposit, a fitting punishment for precipitating an unnecessary election.

A similar fate seems to have befallen the BJP in Bawana, whose candidate Ved Prakash resigned from the Assembly and AAP in a bid to find new patrons. Voters have taught both the turncoat and his benefactors a lesson.

Kejriwal was on a downward spiral since the loss in Punjab. The win suggests his strategy of giving up confrontation and focussing on solving Delhi's problems has worked. Over the past few weeks, Kejriwal had abandoned his strategy of attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and making grandiose plans across India.

He had been uncharacteristically sober and restrained since the loss in the MCD polls. His only public appearance in recent times was a press conference to ask private schools to return the excess fees they had collected. Perhaps, voters have been impressed by the new, reticent, sincere Kejriwal.

Kejriwal is an important character in the great Indian political drama. He is the only one to have shown the desire and the courage to take on the BJP. This gives him an identity of his own because of the pusillanimity of the Congress and flip-flops of other important non-BJP leaders in the Opposition.

Kejriwal's biggest asset is that unlike Rahul Gandhi, who has no intent to take the BJP head-on with a clear strategy, unlike Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati, who have done business with the BJP in the past, he is seen as somebody who never will never ally with the BJP, in spite of pressure, bullying and subterfuge.

This credibility makes Kejriwal important for Indian politics, especially for some distant time in the future when Indian voters would be willing to re-evaluate Modi.

Kejriwal and AAP need to survive till then, both for their personal benefit and for a healthy democracy. When most of the prominent faces in the non-BJP parties – Nitish Kumar for instance – are being drafted by the BJP for its cause, Kejriwal needs to survive so that the Opposition has a semblance of a voice, and puts up a healthy fight.

But, to be able to become a credible opponent of the BJP, Kejriwal needs to prove his commitment to Delhi and ability to run a people-friendly government. He needs to secure his backyard, regain lost ground in Punjab and then wait for the right opportunity.

Voters of Bawana have given Kejriwal a clear idea of what he needs to do in the future. More than a victory, Bawana is a lesson in politics for Kejriwal.

Updated Date: Aug 28, 2017 13:54 PM

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