Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is about to complete one year in office. And he has proved to be the shrewdest politician in India today. Whether or not he will succeed in all his ultimate game plan is a different matter; but there is no denying the fact that he is systematically pursuing his long-term goal. Kejriwal is far ahead of others in mastering the art of remaining in the limelight through the help of the media. I do not think that there has been any one in independent India’s mainstream politics who can come anywhere nearer Kejriwal in the game of abuses and character assassinations of the rivals. Few can match Kejriwal today in the art of hugging the limelight – portray yourself as a victim and target your rivals on the basis of unproven and non-provable charges. Credibility for Kejriwal is not at all a virtue. He may be a Chief Minister, but Kejriwal is always in the mode of agitation. And effortlessly he changes his ideals and political agendas if that ensures him good media coverage.
This point becomes obvious if one just scans the recent press reports on Kejriwal. Invariably on 99 per cent of occasions, he has been in headlines for attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. He has exploited the most the dastardly Dadri lynching, by buying broadcasting time at a huge price to talk for days against its politicisation and the maintenance of the communal amity through “Aam Aadmi”. Incidentally, as against Rs. 22 crore that Shiela Dixit spent on public relations during her 15-year tenure, Kejriwal has, in the last 11 months only, spent already Rs. 526 crore. A large percentage of this expenditure has been devoted to build Kejriwal’s image on popular radio stations and prime-time televisions.
Few people remember that in his NGO-days, in an interview to a leading business daily, he had said that “India’s ablest Prime Minister so far has been Rajiv Gandhi”, who, in his opinion, understood India the best. That he respected the Gandhi family became all the more evident from the revelation by the Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh subsequently that Kejriwal once had written a letter to Sonia Gandhi, requesting her to make him a member of her National Advisory Board. That Sonia could not accommodate him was a different matter. In any case, it is an open secret in Delhi that Kejriwal was one of the best friends of Sandeep Dikshit, the son of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. But see the way he ditched the Congress and Dixit family; in fact, he replaced Sheila as the Chief Minister.
And all this he did in the name of fighting corruption through a movement called India Against Corruption (IAC). In this task, he attracted not only veteran social activist and crusader Anna Hazare but also some of the brightest young men and women of India. However, against the wishes of Anna, he formed a political party. But here too, soon after capturing power, he threw out all other famous co-founders like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. A crusader against corruption, he campaigned last year in Bihar for the party of Lalu Yadav, India’s first major politician to have been convicted of corruption and ineligible to fight election for six years. A politician who claimed to be fighting the evil influences of caste and religion in politics, these days Kejriwal only talks in casteist or communal terms as “a secularist” – see his support for caste-based reservations in government jobs and his total silence on ethnic tensions initiated by extremists among Muslims.
What is Kejriwal’s long-term goal? Well, let us first see some recent developments. Kejriwal says that it is important that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) loses every election and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is demonised on every possible opportunity. Kejriwal tries to reach every trouble-spot in the country to carry out his “hate politics” against Modi. The other day, he rushed to Hyderabad to politicise the suicide of a student activist. He had dashed to Punjab in the wake of the violence in the state following the alleged incidents of desecration of holy books. Terming them as “painful”, Kejriwal said it was a “willful act” to disturb Punjab. He then prayed at the Golden Temple for “return of peace” in the state. He also met families of two Sikhs killed in police firing during anti-desecration protests at Faridkot.
Kejriwal left no stone unturned in meeting Geeta, the young speech and hearing impaired woman who returned to India after being stranded in Pakistan for over a decade. Well, Geeta is not from Delhi, and her return had more to do with the foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was in fitness of things that Geeta met Swaraj and Modi. But Kejriwal managed to fit himself in sharing the headlines.
Not long ago, I had come across a caricature of Kejriwal in the social media. It depicted how on the one hand Kejriwal had invited Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali to have a concert in Delhi under the security cover provided by the volunteers of his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but on the other hand he was blaming the Delhi Police and through it Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not preventing the crimes against women in the national capital. In fact, following the sexual assaults on a minor girl by two minors (under 18 years of age) last year, Kejriwal had threatened that he would not allow Modi to sleep comfortably until and unless he got the control of the Delhi Police, which, at the moment, is under the Union Home Ministry. He had also asked the agitating students of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune to shift their campus to Delhi.
The caricature had a point indeed. If the AAP volunteers are so capable of providing security to the foreign dignitaries, what prevents them from providing similar security to the women of Delhi, at least in select crowded places? That will be the best way of giving a stern message symbolically to the Delhi Police for its incompetence. Instead, ever since he got the unprecedented mandate in the February Assembly election in 2014, Kejriwal has been more in news over the areas that he is not accountable for than for dealing with the subjects that are under his exclusive control.
Kejriwal is too talented a person not to understand that Delhi is not a full-fledged State and that it remains essentially a Union Territory, despite having an elected Chief Minister, a la, Pondicherry. For him, the issue is not simply bureaucratic or legalistic. It has serious political dimensions. In fact, it is essentially political. Therefore, one sees a discernible pattern in what Kejriwal has been focussing on, ever since he became the Chief Minister. He is simply not interested in his job as the Chief Minister; he wants to use his present position in such a way that the country starts looking at him as India’s next Prime Minister. His ultimate aim is to rule over Delhi, not as the Chief Minister but as the Prime Minister.
How many of us have tried to bother over the implementation of Kejriwal’s 70-point agenda that was promised during the election in February? What has been the progress in the fields of health, education, transport, roads and sanitation, the areas which clearly are under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government? What has happened to the Lokpal Bill? Is there free Wi-Fi in market places? He has kept, of course, his words on the subsidies on electricity and water, arguably cheapest in the whole country. He has also proposed to make the MLAs of Delhi highest-paid elected representatives (better than even the President and Prime Minister) – drawing a salary of Rs. 3.2 lakh plus various allowances. Even this 440 per cent rise is not considered enough, with AAP functionary demanding more.
Kejriwal has also written to the Delhi Metro to have more trains, even if the scheme is not economical; he has assured the Metro that its losses on this count will be compensated by the Delhi government.
However, where the money will come from? My guess is that though these days Kejriwal’s fight with Modi is over the control of the bureaucracy (including Police), tomorrow it will be over the grant of more central money so that he will be distributing freebies to the people, and day after it will be violent agitation on the streets to grant Delhi the full statehood. And there will so much chaos in the process that Kejriwal will pray that the Modi government dismisses him as the Chief Minister. The ongoing agitations by the employees of Municipal Corporations in Delhi over non-payment of their salaries due to the non-release of money by the Kejriwal government may be seen in this context. In the eventuality of Kejriwal getting dismissed by the Centre, he will be a martyr and occupy the prime space in the opposition by attracting all the non-BJP parties all over the country to rally behind him. Kejriwal’s real ambition is to become the principal alternative to Modi in the next general elections.
That time it will not be Narendra Modi vs. Rahul Gandhi; nor for that matter will it be Narendra Modi vs. Nitish Kumar. It will be Narendra Modi vs. Arvind Kejriwal. And this is the ultimate goal of the Delhi Chief Minister.
By Prakash Nanda