So much fuss over a hug: Why the Kejriwal defence on the Lalu embrace doesn’t wash

New Delhi: What’s the big deal about a hug? Arvind Kejriwal was the willing guest at a public function where an embrace or some other gesture of friendliness with any guest would not be out of place. He could easily have dismissed the controversy over his being seen in a bear hug with RJD chief Lalu Yadav, who is also a convict in a corruption case, as a storm over nothing. After being invited by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for the grand swearing-in ceremony in Patna, he could not be expected to be hiding from others present at the venue.

Yet, he chose to defend himself saying he was not at fault and it was never a case of mutual appreciation. “In Nitish Kumar’s swearing-in, Lalu Yadav shook hands, and pulled me and hugged me. And held my hand and raised it…We haven’t formed an alliance. We’re against his (Lalu’s) record of corruption and we’ll always oppose it,” he told his party, giving the impression that he regretted the incident.

 So much fuss over a hug: Why the Kejriwal defence on the Lalu embrace doesn’t wash

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. AFP

Kejriwal’s defence was enough for his party workers to follow suit. A senior AAP leader told Firstpost on condition of anonymity, “Lalu Prasad embracing Arvindji might have been a social gesture, but the message shouldn’t go that AAP is supporting him. Our party has always fought against corruption, so joining hands with someone, who has a record of corruption, is out of question.”

The reason for the AAP chief’s reaction seems obvious. Having built an image on the anti-corruption plank and made a political career out of it, he couldn’t be seen hob-nobbing with politicians with tainted reputation. The picture of the hug will be used as a tool by his political rivals to target him and his party in the coming elections, he was only doing preemptive damage control.

It appears childish though. He had been vocal about his happiness over the victory of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. It’s also well known that Kejriwal had sent his volunteers to Bihar to provide tips to Nitish Kumar on ‘how to win hearts of Bihari voters’ ahead of the polls, despite knowing well about Lalu’s presence and his role in the Grand Alliance. If he joins any anti-BJP formation that’s likely to take shape soon, he cannot avoid getting close to tainted leaders.

“Our volunteers visited Bihar three to four times prior to the polling in the state to provide guidance on campaign and door-to-door contact. Nitish Kumar had appreciated AAP’s strategy that helped the party to win 67 seats,” an AAP MLA told Firstpost.

Delhi BJP spokesperson Ashwini Upadhaya remarked, “What Kejriwal did and said is nothing but theatrics. AAP has got converted into Paakhandi Aadmi Party (Fraud Persons’ Party). Now that politics has become bipolar, and he has supported the Nitish-Lalu alliance, his ambitions to go beyond Delhi are amply clear. Wait and watch! In the 2019 (General Election), the AAP will be a part of the Grand Alliance.”

But, Kejriwal denied harbouring any such ambition at the party’s national council meet. "We are not here for power politics. People ask if AAP is in the race for 2019? We are not in any race. Delhi's win was miraculous. We just have to keep working hard and honestly. Don't run after elections. All indications are that you are going to get the same opportunity in Punjab."

Though immediately after taking oath in his second term, Kejriwal had made it clear in February that he would only focus on Delhi as its CM and won’t succumb to the temptation of going national, one of his former trusted lieutenants and then chief spokesperson of AAP, Yogendra Yadav had hinted at the party establishing base in other states. Later, Yogendra was expelled from the party. Despite Kejriwal’s denial, later it was proved right as the party formed a solid base in Punjab.

Congress leader Sharmistha Mukherjee said, “Both the BJP and the AAP have been diverting people’s attention from their non-performance and non-delivery on the promises they made. Kejriwal’s defence on Lalu’s hug shows how the political discourse has reached a new low. There are many serious issues and both the parties are avoiding them. It’s really surprising that the BJP didn’t forcefully protest against the corrupt AAP MLAs or the bogus degree case.”

Whether it’s about his expanding his party’s base beyond Delhi or being part of a new political formation, it will be a tight-rope walk for Kejriwal from now on. His image will come to question with every political move he makes. He would do well to find better explanations than what he came up with in the aftermath of the 'Lalu hug' episode.

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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2015 09:59:17 IST