November 29, 2020

State vs Centre episode could damage BJP as AAP remains PM Narendra Modi’s Achilles heel

modi-vs-kejriwalUnki Jung. Most Indians would have caught this latest potboiler from Delhi. The nation is gripped by this drama because of two reasons. Firstly, every significant development in the capital — politics or crime — resonates nationally. Secondly, one of the two main protagonists in this episode can be given the moniker of Andolan Purush. The manner in which this political script has unfolded, Arvind Kejriwal has been handed dialogues that can potentially revive flagging fortunes.

In close to four months since the Aam Aadmi Party government assumed office, it lurched from one crisis to another. Erosion of goodwill among people is swifter in recent years because politicians during campaigning feed on impatience of voters for change. Actions taken and programmes initiated by government take a while to become discernible. As a result, astute politicians in office not only govern but also ensure that they are seen to be progressing in the direction of promises made. Kejriwal is no different and is aware that expectations he generated cannot be fulfilled currently by the powers at his command. Because he can’t risk another exit like last time, he has to calibrate the campaign for full statehood.

Since its inception, AAP secured support of Delhi’s voters because of Kejriwal’s brand positioning. If development was the biggest vote catcher for the Narendra Modi led BJP, Kejriwal was given the mandate because of promise to target corruption. Unlike corruption in high places, Kejriwal targeted his campaign at lowest common multiples of society and daily greasing of palms they had to perform to accomplish anything.

Constitutionally, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jub surely has various Articles of the Constitution and Clauses on his side. But who interprets the Constitution in the people’s court and especially when one is locking horns with a demagogue like Kejriwal? In any case, as far as his supporters are concerned, gathering creases of impatience on their faces melted when they found reason in the chief minister’s campaign that the Anti-Corruption Bureau was being packed with Centre’s nominees because of discomfort with AAP’s crackdown on corruption. Similarly, targeting of Jitendra Singh Tomar, however legally justifiable, is poorly time. Willy-nilly, Jung has given Kejriwal the opportunity to claim that the Centre, through its nominee and institutions under his control is disallowing an elected government from functioning. The argument can be disputed, but coming barely four months after the BJP lost the battle of perception in Delhi, party bosses appear intent on reliving history.

As far as popular option goes, Kejriwal is the ‘elected’ leader of the people besides being chief minister of the government of National Capital Region while Jung is the ‘selected’ executive head of the same government. While one is in office because of the will of the people, the other is dependent on the pleasure of the President. Whenever the Centre has taken action against popular governments in States, it has snowballed into a political crisis and cast a shadow on future polls.Among political leaders with various abilities, Kejriwal is best in the avatar of an agitator. Governance does not come to him naturally. Instead of providing him with a long rope, the BJP government is pursuing the reverse strategy. Whenever disputes between the Centre’s nominee in States and elected governments surfaced in the past, the Centre has, at its own peril, sided with the Governor. For a government packed with leaders known for political acumen, prime minister downward, being guided by a career bureaucrat in a conflict with a newly elected chief minister is politically perplexing. Is this indicative of political drift because a centralised edifice has too much on its plate?

From 1993, when BJP assumed power in Delhi after the state assembly was revived and partial statehood was granted, the party consistently demanded full statehood. This stance was jettisoned for the 2015 elections when the manifesto skirted the issue. The BJP did not explain reasons behind this reversal. The BJP has boxed itself into a corner and entrapping Kejriwal in constitutional niceties does not serve its purpose. The conflict is evolving on Centre versus State lines. Continued run of this episode will only push Kejriwal into arms of non-BJP rule states for tactical support. This would isolate BJP and in the run up to polls in Bihar, may be damaging for its prospects. AAP and Kejriwal remain Modi’s Achilles Heel.

Courtesy: The Economic Times / Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

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