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Why Modi should not throw Kejriwal a lollipop in Varanasi

Newspapers today were salivating over the prospect of a Narendra Modi versus Arvind Kejriwal battle in Varanasi. It ain't gonna happen. A battle of wits between a tantrum-throwing kid and its parents will always attract attention in the mall, but the issue can be settled only at home once the parents have survived the embarrassment at the mall.

While the media would gain TRPs and readership from this engrossing electoral battle, the idea makes no sense from Modi's point of view, even though Modi strategists have been debating the value of getting their man to fight from Uttar Pradesh to raise the profile of the BJP's efforts in this crucial state.

 Why Modi should not throw Kejriwal a lollipop in Varanasi

Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. Agencies.

For Modi, a fight against Kejriwal in UP is a lose-lose-lose issue no matter what the outcome. For Kejriwal, it’s win-win-win. So far Modi has been sublimely ignoring Kejriwal - the right strategy - and focusing on sending his own message to the electorate directly. When you are running a race, you should be focused on the finishing post, not other participants. Kejriwal’s goal, on the other hand, is not to win, but trip the front-runner and make the headlines. He is seeking a fight with Modi and has been obsessively trolling him on public platforms. Nothing would serve his interests better than for Modi to take note of him.

To explain the situation that is now developing, it is best to use the analogy of the tantrum-throwing spoilt kid at the mall. The kid wants a lollipop and so far the parents have declined the request. So what will the kid do? If he is used to getting what he wants by screaming his head off, he will indeed do so.

At the mall he instinctively knows he has an advantage: at home, his parents can choose to ignore him for a longer period than at the mall, where everyone within earshot will be either watching the fun or silently hoping that the parents will give him his lollipop and stop the nuisance. I have seen this repeatedly happen in airplanes where, when confronted with a tantrum-throwing kid, parents are forced to concede as they themselves can't bear it, even as other passengers shoot hostile looks at the parents for failing to control the kid.

Public spaces are particularly hostile to parents trying to discipline a kid - especially when the kid is good at throwing tantrums. Only parents with nerves of steel can win this battle. At every stage, as the bawling rises to a crescendo, most parents develop a wish to throttle the kid or at least spank him, but this is exactly the wrong strategy. This makes the public not only anti-parent, but pro-kid too. It is lose-lose-lose.

The best strategy for the parent to adopt in this scenario is to abandon the shopping, take the kid home and let him continue with this tantrum till he himself gets tired of it and accepts defeat. You can't win against such a kid by indulging his tantrums.

Back to Arvind Kejriwal. He is a megalomaniac posturing as a humble servant of the people. Having thrown a tantrum in Delhi and defeated Sheila Dikshit, he has decided that he needs more tantrum-throwing opportunities - this time at bigger targets. He is looking for new scalps. Taking on Modi is not about anything but feeding Kejriwal's own ego. The Dikshit victory has gone to his head.

Anyone who has watched Kejriwal in action for two years will know he is a tantrum-thrower par excellence. Once the Anna movement died down in 2012, Kejriwal launched his political party and spent the first few months throwing mud at everybody - all politicians and businessmen he could think of. When he came to power in Delhi, he continued his tantrums - first with his dharna to get some hapless cops suspended, and later to get out of the CM's gaddi where his tantrums didn't work as well. In fact, it was alienating him from the public. As CM, he found the public saw him in the role of parent, not kid, which is why he was eager to get back into the pram and start bawling. So he threw another tantrum over the Jan Lokpal Bill and exited.

If you need any proof that Kejriwal is about tantrums and little else, you can do no better than to read his recent statement that communalism is a bigger threat than corruption. For a man who till the other day claimed corruption as the country's biggest scourge, this is strange. Unless one realises that without making this shift he can't throw further tantrums since, the corrupt Congress seems vanquished and Modi does not look like an easy target for an anti-corruption campaign. This is why he shifted the goalpost to communalism. To continue on the path to martyrdom, you need bigger enemies, real or imagined.

Having gotten his lollipop by throwing a tantrum against the Congress in Delhi, Kejriwal now needs a fresh reason for throwing another. He has found one in Modi and communalism.

In indicating that he may fight Modi in Varanasi, Kejriwal is playing super-smart. If Modi doesn't fight from there, it will seem like he ran away. If he fights and loses to Kejriwal (most unlikely), it will be a huge coup. If Modi wins by a small margin, Kejriwal will claim moral victory. If Modi wins big, Kejriwal will claim money power defeated him. This is why Kejriwal is practically trying to psyche Modi into fighting him in Varanasi.

Whatever happens in a Modi versus Kejriwal fight in Varanasi, it's a win-win-win for the latter and lose-lose-lose for Modi. When one man has nothing to lose and the other has everything to lose, it is a fight best avoided by the one who has everything to lose - in this case Modi.

It makes no sense for Modi to fight from Varanasi just to give Kejriwal a reason to smile. Consider what could easily happen: in this scenario, it will be a straight fight since all other parties will opt out in the hope Kejriwal will pull off a miracle. Since Kejriwal will be banking on the minority vote, the BJP will seek a reverse polarisation in UP. This is exactly what Modi has avoided so far by keeping his focus on development. Kejriwal will end up communalising the issue by repeatedly throwing a tantrum on communalism, and Gujarat 2002, and make polarisation a reality. In UP, Kejriwal will dictate the agenda and sour Modi's non-sectarian pitch. Not only that, Modi’s real battle is not in Varanasi, but the whole of India. Varanasi will be a huge distraction – and a waste of time for him.

If the best strategy for a parent confronting a tantrum-throwing kid at the mall is to take him home and let him realise that tantrums don't pay, Modi should adopt this strategy. Let Kejriwal fight him at home in Gujarat. If we assume that most Gujaratis would like nothing more than to see one of their own sons as PM, Kejriwal will get his comeuppance.

You don't indulge a tantrum-thrower by tossing him a lollipop.

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Updated Date: Mar 03, 2014 13:35:04 IST