Opinion | In Arvind Kejriwal's Release, A Catalogue Of Contradictions

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Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal has emerged on the 2024 poll scene with a bundle of fantasies and self-contradictions. 

One. His party is contesting 22 seats out of a total of 542 - a marginal player in the elections for the 18th Lok Sabha. But Kejriwal predicts a defeat for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He has made various statements, one among which is that Narendra Modi would quit as Prime Minister next year - his 75th birthday - to make way for his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah. Another frill to that story is that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will be removed within two months of the BJP's Lok Sabha victory to prevent him from becoming a challenger to Shah. 

Poll Predictions

Two. Kejriwal claims that psephologists and the 'satta bazar' (the betting market) are pegging BJP's tally at 230 - far more than Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi's estimations of 150-180. If Kejriwal's calculation, that the BJP will miss the halfway mark, ultimately proves to be correct, what is the logic behind his claim that after elections, Prime Minister Modi will drive the nation towards a 'One Nation, One Leader ' model? 

Three. Kejriwal has long been a master of disruption and obfuscation. Rhetoric plays a role during campaigns, but political pundits are taking neither him nor the Congress siblings seriously in terms of poll predictions. The ground current at present does not suggest a downturn in the fortunes of the ruling party.

Four. The AAP has zero seats in the outgoing Lok Sabha, but the decibel of its leader is arguably higher than the pitch of all other INDIA bloc parties put together. In the 22 seats it is contesting, the AAP challenges the BJP in nine, while in the remaining 13 in Punjab, it is up against the Congress, which is defending eight of these seats. Confident that he can handle its INDIA ally, Kejriwal is trying to be a spoiler for the BJP. He is seeking to puncture the party's poll pitch, 'Modi Ki Guarantee', through conspiracy theories about its succession plans for the Prime Minister. The BJP, in turn, has summarily dismissed such statements as fantasy and chided Kejriwal about his own succession plans - or the lack thereof - which compelled him to cling to chief ministership even in jail.

Kejriwal's Guarantees - INDIA's Too?

Five. Kejriwal has announced a ten-point agenda of his own, which he calls 'Kejriwal Ki Guarantee', and has suo motu declared that it will be the INDIA bloc's agenda too if it forms a government. That he did not consider or consult with his allies before making this announcement is a different matter. So much for his criticism of the BJP's "autocracy".

Six. A master in stitching appealing narratives, Kejriwal emerged as a mass leader during the India Against Corruption movement in 2012, which ultimately, according to many, proved to be the Congress's undoing. The party is now the AAP's ally in the INDIA bloc. The list of contradictions is long.

Read | Opinion: Kejriwal Out On Bail: How Effective Will His Intense Campaigning Be?

Seven. The Supreme Court's decision to release Arvind Kejriwal on a 21-day interim bail to enable him to participate in the election campaign has raised eyebrows. For one, he did not seek bail but challenged the legality of his arrest. That matter awaits adjudication. The top court has placed restrictions on his functioning as Chief Minister and has barred him from commenting on the case. This, apart from putting estoppels on his functioning as Chief Minister, means he cannot go to the Secretariat or sign files.

The Religious Outreach

Eight. Kejriwal stole the Opposition's thunder as he walked out of Tihar jail after 51 days of incarceration. Invoking Lord Hanuman, he jumped into the ring to challenge the BJP in the latter's own domain, Hindutva. Before embarking on his 'Mission 2024', he went to New Delhi's Hanuman Mandir along with his family and the AAP's top brass, and also paid a visit to a South Indian temple next door to offer prayers to Shani, the God of justice and retribution. Then he drove to the party headquarters to address what was purported to be a press conference, but, in the words of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, turned out to be a rally to celebrate Kejriwal's release. 

Surprisingly, the prominent presence of Mann in his entourage notwithstanding, Kejriwal did not pay obeisance at the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, which is associated with the eighth Sikh Guru, Harkishan Dev, and is of the 18th-century vintage. Of the total of 22 seats the AAP is in the fray for, 13, or 59%, are in Punjab. That Kejriwal's religious outreach did not account for these voters - Sikhs not just in Punjab but also in Delhi and Haryana - is odd. 

Read | Won't Have To Go Back To Jail If You Choose AAP: Arvind Kejriwal's Pitch

Nine. Kejriwal seems to have already breached the apex court's directive by asserting that he was implicated in a 'false case'. The BJP's national spokesman, Sudhangshu Trivedi, was quick to point out that Kejriwal may have 'violated a bail norm'. It remains to be seen what view the court takes of this deviation.

The Supreme Court, notably while taking the unprecedented step of granting interim bail to a person who had not even applied for it, said that it was allowing Kejriwal to campaign for 21 days as his case would have taken time to conclude. Notably, Kejriwal's plea to grant him bail till June 4, the day results are to be declared, was declined, and he has to return to Tihar on June 2, a day after polling is over in Punjab. Delhi and Haryana, where the AAP is contesting 14 seats in total (only a single seat in Haryana), vote on May 25, while in Gujarat and Assam, where it is contesting two seats each, voting is already done.

The Soren Question

And, ten. It'll be interesting to see whether the Kejriwal precedent will now be cited by Hemant Soren too, the incarcerated ex-Chief Minister of Jharkhand who is facing charges of corruption. Ten of the state's 14 seats will go to the polls in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of voting. Like Kejriwal, Soren, too, was an elected Chief Minister and is the leader of his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). It was founded in 1972, four decades before AAP came into being. Unlike Kejriwal though, Soren did not avoid nine summonses from the Enforcement Directorate - which, to be clear, is a grave offence in itself, and of which the Supreme Court has taken a negative view in Kejriwal's case. Soren, instead, surrendered and went to jail. He also quit his post, allowing Champai Soren to be Chief Minister. As for Kejriwal, the JMM's allies in the INDIA bloc symbolically left a chair vacant for Hemant Soren too in their Delhi and Ranchi rallies. Will - and should - he be allowed to campaign as well?

(Shubhabrata Bhattacharya is a retired editor and a public affairs commentator)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author