If politics were cricket, in the 2020 elections for Delhi, the AAP would certainly have been cast as India, the BJP as Sri Lanka and the Congress as one of the qualifiers. For those who do not follow cricket, the simple explanation is this: the AAP would be the favourite to win; the BJP would have an outside chance, and the Congress would be hoping for a miracle.
Almost every opinion poll in the run-up to the February 8 elections has predicted a clean-sweep for Arvind Kejriwal’s party, with some predicting a nearly 55 per cent vote share, compared to the BJP’s 25. When the gap between the winner and the loser is almost 30 per cent, it usually leads to a landslide. So, don’t be surprised if the AAP actually achieves its goal of “ab ki baar 67 paar (this time we cross the 2015 tally of 67 seats).” And, in deference to the 2015 slogan, the BJP may actually become half (it had won three seats in the previous election) and the Congress remains saaf (zero).
It is ironic then, that even though his party’s graph is soaring, the Kejriwal of today is plummeting to a new low. From the middle-class hero, youth icon and BJP’s ideological adversary he was once, Kejriwal has been reduced to a glorified mayor whose only aim in life appears to be to return to power in Delhi. Like his tongue that was shortened for medical reasons once, his stature has also been cut down many sizes smaller.
Kejriwal was once the archetypical David pitted against the political giants of his age. In the tumultuous days that followed his party’s surprise victory in the 2013 elections for the Delhi assembly, he actually raised hopes of being the counter to the Narendra Modi narrative.
If Modi represented the power of majoritarian Hindutva revved up by slogans of vikaas (development) through capitalism, Kejriwal appeared to symbolise secularism, socialism and an idea of India based on the welfare of the underclass and the under-privileged, not of cronies in corridors of capitalism.
But, Kejriwal’s biggest appeal was that he embodied an idealism based on Indian ethos—humility, inclusiveness, syncretism, anti-establishmentism, and the courage to speak what he considered right. Interestingly, Kejriwal himself understood his USP and in his 2013-14 avatar, tried to sell himself as Bhagat Singh—a romantic, fearless patriot who would take on the establishment regardless of the cost.
In today’s Kejriwal, there is as not even a hint of Bhagat Singh. He is now more like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar—a man who gave up his fight, surrendered the ideals he preached and struck a compromise in the pursuit of petty goals.
You don’t need to look beyond Delhi to witness the decline of Kejriwal. The man who would once sit on a dharna on the streets at the drop of the muffler has been completely quiet on the amendments in the citizenship law (CAA), and the violence and protests in campuses.
The man who owes his politics to the anti-corruption protests led by Anna Hazare and the anger that spilled over into the streets after the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape and murder, has been missing from protests by citizens and students against the government’s ploy to change India’s secular traditions, the very foundations of its Constitution. He should thank has stars that Delhi’s streets are still not resonating with chants of “Saari Dilli yahan hai, Arvind Kejriwal kahan hai (all of Delhi is here, where is Kejriwal)?” A similar sentiment, you would remember, had ended Sheila Dixit’s legacy and politics.
You can, of course, understand Kejriwal’s silence. He wants power, not principles; the CM’s chair, not the moral authority of a mass leader. He wants to be Shah Alam—whose empire extended from the Red Fort to Palam—and not one of the great Mughals. With this objective in mind, he doesn’t want to talk about anything other than electricity, water, free WiFi and pollution. Subjects like secularism, political morality, intellectual honesty and Constitutional integrity are now beyond his ken. Once he wanted to be India’s Prime Minister, the hero of the youth, a patriot who believed in a bigger cause; now he is content with being Delhi’s mayor. As they say, every man rises to his level of incompetence.
But, the problem here is this: Kejriwal has lost the war for a pyrrhic victory in a mayoral election. He has ceded the ideological space he could once have occupied; it is now available to whoever summons the courage to step up as the BJP’s ideological adversary.
A large section of India, including its students, youth, the liberals, the minorities and the Dalits, are watching the current churn in politics with great interest. They are noticing who is speaking up for civil liberties, who is taking a clear stand on the citizenship law, who is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those fighting for the soul of India, its Constitution and legacy, who is providing moral and political support to students on the campuses. One day, when all these people come together to look for a political alternative to the BJP, Kejriwal would discover his complete irrelevance in Indian politics.