This Article is From Mar 30, 2023

Opinion: Kejriwal's Great Gamble As He Drops His Restraint On Modi

Arvind Kejriwal is back in form. He is aggressive. He is attacking the Prime Minister fiercely. He is not holding back, even if it means getting personal - something he has firmly avoided in recent years. In his speech in the Delhi assembly, he called Narendra Modi "under-educated", someone who does not understand issues. He also dubbed him the "most corrupt PM" and offered his theory on why the Modi government is not taking action against Adani and is not ready for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Adani-Hindenburg case.

We all know that Kejriwal had stopped attacking Modi directly after losing the Punjab election in 2017. A few months on, he also lost the MCD elections. He was advised that attacking Modi would boomerang as the Prime Minister is very popular and personal attacks on him displease his supporters. Kejriwal heeded the advice.

So why this relapse into personal attacks and accusations against Modi? What has changed?

There is no denying that politics has changed a lot since 2017. Not only did Modi win a second term, he also emerged more powerful, winning more elections since 2019 than he won between 2014 and 2019. His control over the government and constitutional institutions is now more solid than any other Prime Minister since the Emergency. He is accused of misusing central agencies brazenly. Today, the Enforcement Directorate and CBI are more intimidating and threatening than any government agency ever in India's constitutional history. Today, more than 90 per cent of the political cases filed by the ED and CBI are against opposition leaders. Many big leaders have spent months in jail. There is an outcry that India's democracy has been hijacked by probe agencies. Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is one of the worst sufferers in this. Two of his cabinet colleagues are in jail.

Manish Sisodia, the poster boy of Anna Hazare's Lokpal movement, has been in ED custody for more than a month and there are no signs that he will be freed anytime soon. Sisodia is "Accused number one" in the liquor scam. Sisodia was the backbone of the Delhi administration and was called the architect of the education model that AAP has projected globally.

The other minister, Satyendar Jain, has been in Tihar jail for almost a year. He has been charged with corruption and he, too, is unlikely to be freed for a while. Another very important AAP member, Vijay Nayyar, has been in jail for over six months. He was the communications in-charge of AAP. He is believed to be very close to Kejriwal and was considered the architect of the Delhi liquor policy that landed the AAP government and its leaders in a morass.

Whispers in the power corridors suggest that sooner or later, the sleuths will land on Kejriwal's doorstep. His home and office have been raided in the past. AAP leaders claim the arrested leaders are being "tortured" and pressured to name Kejriwal in the liquor scam. But Kejriwal is one of the country's tallest leaders and it will not be easy for the agencies to touch him. The liquor scam has undoubtedly dented his image but a large section of people is not willing to accept any corruption smear against Kejriwal, an IIT alumnus and former bureaucrat.

There is also a perception that AAP leaders are being victimised by the Modi government because the party handed humiliating defeats to the BJP, not once but twice in Delhi, and even wrested the civic body MCD from the BJP. The overwhelming victory in Punjab and AAP's entry in Gujarat have also catalysed the probe agencies' action.

Kejriwal can potentially emerge as a serious challenger to Modi, and AAP can pose a threat to the BJP nationally, having shown a propensity to use Hindutva symbols to connect with Hindu voters.

Unlike other opposition leaders, Kejriwal and his team have no hesitation in shouting 'Jai Shri Ram' from a public platform. His government has promised to transport senior citizens to Ayodhya for Lord Ram's Darshan (viewing).

Kejriwal's talent for using social media platforms is legendary. He might not have the luxury of institutional memory, but he has mastered the art of hardcore politics. That is why many feel he is a bigger threat to Modi than Rahul Gandhi. It is in this context that Kejriwal and his party have realised that being soft on Modi won't lead them anywhere. It damages their USP as a party that loves to call a spade a spade and feeds the narrative that the party has surrendered before Modi and has become the B-Team of BJP.

AAP has also realised that not speaking against Modi has not fetched any dividends. Rather, institutional attacks on the AAP government in Delhi have increased exponentially. If AAP faced trouble during Najeeb Jung and Anil Baijal's stints as Lieutenant Governor (LG), after VK Saxena's takeover it is war.

Manish Sisodia's arrest was the tipping point. Kejriwal has lost all hope of mending relationships with Modi. He is left with two options - either leave the battle without fighting or go down fighting. He has chosen the second option and the Adani issue has come at the most opportune time. After his initial hesitation, he jumped in.

There is no doubt that Rahul Gandhi has taken the lead and he should be credited for making the Adani issue a national talking point. He is also paying the price. He lost his membership of parliament. Yet, he is not willing to surrender before Modi. In Kejriwal, now Rahul Gandhi has an ally who is more articulate and social media savvy.

Kejriwal's full-throated personal attack on Modi in the Delhi assembly is calculated. He has three objectives in mind.

One, if the agencies grab him in the future, he can project himself as a martyr who is paying the price for raising an issue in the larger public interest.

Two, it will help him reclaim lost ground in the fight against corruption, which is AAP's core value and the very reason for its existence.

Three, this will further raise his stock among opposition leaders. Why should only Rahul Gandhi have all the fun and credit? This is also Kejriwal's convoluted way of throwing his hat in the ring. Who knows what will happen in the future?

Knowing Modi, this is a dangerous game. This might be a fight to the finish. But Kejriwal has always been a gambler, a great gambler.

(Ashutosh is author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor,

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.