Saturday, April 13, 2024

Will Kejriwal’s arrest impact Lok Sabha elections?


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By Sushil Kutty

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday took back from the Supreme Court his appeal against his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate. The top court was poised to hear the plea when Kejriwal’s lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi declared the decision, which Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said was used by Kejriwal’s counsel to “mislead the court”.
“I had told the ED that till the matter is disposed of by this Court, do not produce him for remand,” Mehta said. Earlier, Singhvi had said that the plea was being withdrawn “since it was clashing with the remand.” This drama apart, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest could not have come at a more critical juncture for the Aam Aadmi Party. Though a matter of importance, who is Delhi Chief Minister is the least of Kejriwal’s worries.
The BJP says it is a “purely legal matter”, whereas the AAP insists it’s a “purely political ploy” to stymie the AAP’s challenge to the BJP in the Delhi parliamentary seats, buoyed by AAP’s alliance with the Congress. It should be pointed out that the BJP is not sure if it will be able to retain the 7 Lok Sabha seats of Delhi that it had won in 2014 and 2019.
What if Delhi turns out fool’s gold for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, instead of a prized catch after the Arvind Kejriwal arrest? Delhi voters might give Kejriwal their sympathy as well as their votes. The AAP is banking on this silver lining to the dark cloud at this time of crisis. On paper, it is possible that the Delhi electorate will hit back at the BJP with vindictive force.
Of course, there is concern that AAP might crumble under pressure. There’s the leadership vacuum. Kejriwal, like so many others, left no equal to replace him at the head of the party. Yogendra Yadav, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan, and Kumar Vishwas – the list is long. AAP will suffer unless Kejriwal finds his own replacement – a loyal coterie or foisting his wife on Delhi. AAP minister Atishi Marlena and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann will have to take a decision.
With general elections round the corner, Kejriwal couldn’t have found a worse time to get arrested. The summons game that Kejriwal was playing with the Enforcement Directorate came with consequences. The spectre of Narendra Modi is now haunting the AAP even as the BJP is talking of the political and economic transformation of Delhi, which Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest, it says, will facilitate.
Like somebody wrote, “voters of the state are basically a jump ball right now”, meaning a large chunk consists of “undecided voters” after Kejriwal’s arrest. The refurbished Delhi liquor policy is the cause of all the trouble, a “person familiar with the situation” said. That being said, at this point in time, it is hard to imagine who is edging out whom?
On paper, Modi holds the upper hand. But it wouldn’t be 7/7 in Delhi for the BJP on June 4. Not when the Congress is standing firm with the beleaguered Aam Aadmi Party and both the AAP as well as the BJP are very competitive, though this time around, the results might not be as cool for the BJP as they used to be. The Congress-AAP alliance will be the game-changer even if recent history has favoured the BJP.
Again, with the Congress in the frame, there will be a substantial Muslim vote, likely to vote for the AAP, too. Ever since the Karnataka assembly elections, the Muslim electorate is baked in to vote for the Congress come rain or shine. AAP’s messages on schools and health clinics will resonate with its vote-banks and the BJP is allegedly doing everything it can to deny the Opposition a level playing field.
After Kejriwal’s arrest, chances are the dynamics of the race will suit Kejriwal’s party though Kejriwal’s absence will be felt as no party can rest on its laurels alone. Also, Modi’s BJP will be moving fast to position itself to take advantage of the changed situation. The BJP, being stronger, will be on a surer footing, unless the Aam Aadmi Party figures out what to do and how to counter and succeed.
At some point, Kejriwal miscalculated. Now, AAP has been painted into a corner with the colours of corruption, the symptom of a general malaise of impropriety that is plaguing the polity. Arvind Kejriwal remaining Chief Minister and ruling Delhi from Tihar is a foolish proposal. The Modi government will jump at the chance to rid Delhi of the AAP government.
AAP should identify a new Chief Minister and continue to rule Delhi. Kejriwal running Delhi from Tihar is fraught with risks of central intervention. This is also an opportunity for AAP to build a broader leadership base. The undisputed leader should go for the time being. The Bharatiya Janata Party is cozily placed as its Delhi dream has come true. The party’s strategy to indict the Delhi government in scams has worked.
The actions taken on the excise policy and the “Delhi Jal Board” scams went according to plan. For very political reasons, Kejriwal was always a “person of interest” for the Modi government, in both the “DJB scam” and the “Excise Policy” scam. The Delhi Chief Minister has been issued summons in the “DJB scam”, too. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s plan is to portray Kejriwal “as the face of corruption” and with Kejriwal’s arrest the BJP is halfway done.
Simultaneously, the BJP has gone to town terming Kejriwal’s arrest “a purely legal matter”. AAP on the other hand is terming it purely political. With Delhi’s control and governance at stake, both AAP and alliance partner Congress are optimistic that the INDI-Alliance will do great in the Delhi Lok Sabha elections. “AAP has been fighting the BJP for the protection of the Constitution… we hope the Supreme Court will protect the democracy of India,” AAP minister Atishi Marlena said. Marlena has a lot on her plate. It is her time to lead from the front. (IPA Service)


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