Kejriwal-Modi power struggle

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Arvind Kejriwal's victim card might have worked once or twice in the past but he cannot win the 2019 General Election by playing it repeatedly. Nobody appreciates constant street politics

Amidst the summer heat and severe pollution levels, the National Capital was caught in a bizarre confrontation between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Lt Governor Anil Baijal and  Prime Minister Narendra Modi for over a week. Besides politicians, the bureaucracy too was dragged into the fight as the Chief Minister alleged that the IAS officers were not cooperating at the behest of the Centre. The result was that the Capital was caught in limbo with no work done since June 14. Thankfully Kejriwal has ended the nine-day protest.

The crisis began when Kejriwal, along with his Cabinet Ministers Manish Sisodia, Satyendar Jain and Gopal Rai started a sit-in protest at Raj Niwas, the Lt Governor’s residence on June 14, demanding a direction to the IAS officers to end their undeclared strike. The faceoff  between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Government and the bureaucracy began on February 20 after the alleged assault on the Chief Secretary of Delhi by two AAP MLAs at the Chief Minister’s residence. There is more to it than meets the eye in this latest political drama. Why is Kejriwal indulging in a street fight at this point of time? It has many angles. It is shadow-boxing between the Chief Minister and his bête noire, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

It is a power struggle between the Chief Minister and the Lt Governor of Delhi.  Politically, the Opposition parties are using the occasion to show off the emerging Opposition unity. As for the four Opposition Chief Ministers who have supported Kejriwal until now, it is a game of settling scores with Modi. The IAS officers are miffed with the Chief Minister and fear for their security. 

This is not the first time that Kejriwal has indulged in this kind of drama.  He has prime ministerial ambitions and has been taking on Modi since 2014 — even contesting against him in Varanasi. He has not missed any opportunity to take on the Centre.  He has targeted the Office of the Lt Governor alleging that the Lt Governor is functioning as an agent of the Centre to stop him from working.

He did that with the earlier Lt Governor Najeeb Jung and is now doing the same with his successor Anil Baijal now. When his party’s expansion plans in Punjab and Goa failed, and after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unprecedented electoral sweep in Uttar Pradesh and other States, Kejriwal consciously decided to lie low realising that the BJP was politically on the ascendancy, especially when its winning spree continued in the North-East as well. He believes in the dictum: Don’t attack a leader when he is popular. 

Now he has changed his strategy seeing the rising public anger against higher diesel and petrol prices and also against Modi’s policies. Politically, the recent by-poll results and the defeat in Karnataka has emboldened the Delhi Chief Minister to become aggressive. Added to that were the recent efforts of the Opposition unity ahead of the 2019 General Election which was highly visible after the formation of the Karnataka Government.

It is not surprising that four non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Chief Ministers — Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala) and HD Kumaraswamy (Karnataka) have taken up his case with the Prime Minister. 

Who would have thought that the two political opponents — Mamata Banerjee and her Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan would not only meet but also become part of a unified Opposition against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  The open support to the Delhi Chief Minister from these four heavy weights is political ahead of the 2019 Election.

Mamata and Vijayan are apprehensive of the BJP expansion plans in their backyards while Chandrababu just quit the NDA and Kumarawsamy wants to protect his turf.  So in the name of democracy and federalism, they have pledged their support to the AAP chief. 

Interestingly, though the Congress is not on board to support Kejriwal, he has been able to get the support of other regional  opposition parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) gradually. 

Kejriwal has had a battle with the bureaucracy ever since he took over and it is no surprise that he is continuing with it. He has been fighting with the Lt Governor on postings and transfers of IAS officers. 

Many in the National Capital are not happy to see this ugly confrontation. It does not matter who is right or wrong, it is the people of Delhi who are suffering. The Kejriwal Government was not elected for creating chaos. He is a very clever politician and is positioning himself to get the support of the people by playing the victim.

Time will tell whether this victim card will actually help Kejriwal or go against him.  If he wants to win votes, he must show results and win back the middle class’s support, which is gradually disappearing. Secondly, he must keep the IAS officers on his side to deliver governance as they play a critical role in his success or failure. Thirdly, politics should be kept aside and he must concentrate more on governance. Fourthly, keeping a fine balance between the Centre, the State and the Lt Governor as well as the bureaucracy is imperative.  Nobody appreciates constant street politics.

Kejriwal’s victim card might have worked once or twice but he cannot expect to get support of the masses by playing it repeatedly.  Get back to work Arvind Kejriwal, as that is the only mantra you should chant.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)

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