Modi’s Kejriwal Problem

To keep the BJP out, Congress and Left are working overtime to cobble up a third front headed by AAP. Anil Pandey has the big picture

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tsi_02_feb_01The upward trajectory of Arvind Kejriwal and Aam Aadmi party (AAP) has given fresh hope to those opposed to the rising fortunes of Narendra Modi. The Congress and Left parties are convinced that if anyone can now stop the BJP bandwagon from coming to fruition, it is AAP and AAP alone. All indications point to the two riding on the former IRS officer’s narrow shoulders, cobble together an alliance of a third front or federal front parties and scuttle the BJP game plan. For those tired of the Gujarat chief minister’s oratory, it would be sweet revenge.

The Congress, reportedly in dire political straits, has its strategy well worked out. It wants to ride on the Kejriwal bandwagon until the elections, keep the Delhi chief minister centre stage so that attention remains deflected from it to the BJP. Ideally, it would suit Congress to keep out completely and let Kejriwal take on the BJP. It will also mean that Modi instead of attacking Rahul and Sonia will be forced to attack Kejriwal – so far he has tactically not said anything on Kejriwal.

tsi_02_feb_02The Congress has old ally the Left parties as more than willing partners in trying to upset the BJP 2014 poll effort by derailing Modi who they believe is evil incarnate and the cause of most ills in the country. They also need to resuscitate themselves after going into a shell in Bengal after their historic loss in 2011 by taking on Mamata Bannerjee; three years out of power and they now need to get their act together. Left strategists believe an axis move with the Congress in conjunction will certainly brighten their prospects in West Bengal and Kerala. With AAP emerging as the third if not the second largest formation in the country, the Congress, Left and other like-minded parties will not hesitate a second to install the AAP boss as the country’s surprise prime minister.

tsi_02_feb_04The Congress tie up with the AAP to form the Delhi government represents a strategic step ahead for the ruling UPA combine. Kejriwal, who was until the Delhi assembly elections targeting the Congress, now has found good reasons to take their support and form a government. After the confidence vote, even though relations between Congress and AAP have not been great, there is certainly less hostility than what it was when the anti-corruption movement was at its peak. There are other significant fall outs; Kejriwal who for the last couple of years had trained his guns relentlessly on the Congress is going to do the same with the BJP, thereby broad basing their attack making it more three-sided.

The Delhi chief minister, after taming the Congress, is now confident enough to take on the BJP. So it can only be considered a Congress master stroke if they have managed to retrieve some of the loss ground with the help of AAP, faced as they are with a slew of corruption charges, the inability to control rampant inflation and rank policy paralysis.

But it is also a question of calibration. Congress strategists want to ensure that Arvind Kejriwal does not go over the top, as he is wont to do, when it comes to opening up files like the Commonwealth Games scam. The chances of an anti-corruption campaign is likely to hit the Congress harder because Anna Hazare’s campaign when it started was aimed at the ruling party.For the moment, the Congress has successfully managed to diffuse Anna, who is singing a different tune these days.

Sudhanshu Trivedi, national spokesman BJP talks in an interview. Excerpts:

‘The mandate is going to be for Narendra Modi’

According to some recent surveys, AAP appears to be taking giant strides as far as popularity sweepstakes are concerned.
You are only talking about Delhi. Talking to 2,000 odd persons in eight cities and towns hardly constitutes a national trend.

Can AAP pose a threat to the BJP?
The mood in the country is pro-Modi and people want a strong leader who can provide good governance.

Even Kejriwal is talking about good governance.
AAP has been exposed in 20 days. People have seen that they are unfit to rule and run a government.

So you believe that Congress is your main rival?
The Congress has already thrown up its hands and said that the BJP is going to form a government.

Some people say that AAP could emerge as the third alternative making it difficult for the BJP to form a government at the centre.
If you look at the last few elections, the electorate has been giving decisive mandates. This time the vote is for BJP and Narendra Modi.

The Left Front believes it can help cobble through a third front. Do you agree?
That is a Leftist pipe dream.

tsi_02_feb_06The Congress, aware that it is headed for a drubbing, is doing what it can to control the damage as much as possible. Rahul’s ‘surprise’ appearance at the Press Club of India to denounce the ordinance on convicted law makers, his ‘efforts’ to push the Lokpal Bill, an investigation into the Adarsh housing scam and generally a high profile (certainly higher than ever in the last decade or so) are all part of the propaganda buildup for the Congress scion.

To protect its credibility in the face of Rahul’s somewhat suspect political credentials – a single factor that could precipitate a Congress rout – the alliance with AAP has come as a double whammy. For Congress, it is the best antidote against a resurgent Modi, aware as they are that they will be unable to stop the Gujarat strongman on their own. In addition, if things work well with the AAP in Delhi, some credit would go the Congress; if it fails a potential rival will be out of the way.

‘Manohar Parikkar travels on a scooter’

Anurag Thakur, president BJYM talks to TSI

Arvind Kejriwal is emerging as the most popular anti-corruption activist in India. Young voters who would have backed Modi are now willing to support Kejriwal.
It is not true. The myth is being broken. All our top leaders LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and others have always fought corruption and enjoy clean reputations.

Young voters are getting disillusioned by the VIP-red beacon culture. People are attracted towards Arvind Kejriwal for his simplicity.
The media tends to focus on one man. Look at our Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, he goes to the Vidhan Sabha on a scooter. People want development not drama and they cannot be fooled.

Admits a BJP leader: “By helping to install a government in Delhi, the Congress has brought Kejriwal centre stage, invariably making him the third element of the troika of national parties. It is obvious that the biggest loser in such circumstances will be the BJP. Its best laid out plans can go awry.’’

Kamal Sharma, president Punjab BJP, talks in an interview. Excerpts:

‘We are using the new media’

You are the youngest state president of the BJP. What steps have you taken to attract the youth voter?
We are using the new media. I am connecting with young voters on the Face book, we hold meetings with them informing them personally about our party programmes and other related matters. Our programmes have been very successful in Jalandhar, we now intend to move to Amritsar and Ludhiana

Tell us about your call centre experience.
At the level of party, it is the first time it is being implemented at the state level. To catch the imagination of youth voters, we have started a call centre which has a vast data bank. We use their phone numbers and email addresses to interact with them.

What about the first time voter?
That is our special area of emphasis. We have launched a membership drive in colleges and university campuses. There is online registration as well and we have netted in quite a few new voters.

 

tsi_02_feb_08For the Left parties, there are signs of resurgence after three quiet years. Not too long ago, their combined strength in the Lok Sabha was 50 odd seats. Now it is down to 20 MPs but in the AAP, Left parties see a movement which should have been their very own if they had played their cards right more than decades ago.

Naturally with AAP, the Leftists sense an opportunity to prop up a third front, an art perfected by CPM and Harkishan Singh Surjeet in the 1990s. The late CPM leader had a big role to play in propping up and indeed setting up successive third front governments. Such an alliance, even 20 years later, has the potential to become a possible counterweight to Modi and the BJP.

There is little doubt that things are cooking up between the Left parties and the AAP. It suits both of them. The AAP, greatly encouraged by the nationwide response it has got, is now looking towards forming a government at the centre. It suits them to have the Left as an ‘interlocutor’ at the centre. For the Left, it is an opportunity to retrieve lost ground in West Bengal against Mamata. Not surprisingly, the first signs of such bonhomie are evident. At the anti-rape protests in Kolkata, CPM leader Brinda Karat used the AAP platform instead of the CPM stage. Says CPM leader Prakash Karat: “It is too early to make an assessment of the AAP minority government in Delhi but the good thing is that they have the support of the middle classes. We will have to wait and see what their policies are.’’ Clearly, the Left is ‘waiting’ for AAP before it strikes an informal alliance with Kejriwal and company.

tsi_02_feb_09Urban Dilemmas

Narendra Modi senses a challenge from the AAP and prepares to tweak his tactics a little

At the recent National Council meeting of BJP, there were smiles all round as Narendra Modi was the star speaker. But there were also question marks. The smiles were for the BJP prime ministerial aspirant’s rising graph, the frowns for the growing nationwide popularity of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The question people are asking is this: could the latter stymie the former’s juggernaut?

Before the Delhi assembly election results, Modi had undoubtedly turned the tide in favour of the BJP by a series of rallies throughout the country. The party had formed governments in three states and was the single largest party in Delhi and the general consensus was that the feel good factor had been fired by the Gujarat chief minister.

But the emergence of Kejriwal in Delhi and its stunning successes have undoubtedly slowed down Modi’s victory chariot.  According to recent surveys, AAP could emerge as the third largest party after the General Elections. The party is contesting close to 400 Lok Sabha seats and there is a good chance that should they come out third – if not actually second – they would be front runners to form a government with the help of Congress-Left Front-regional parties’ combine. Modi and the top BJP leadership are aware that Kejriwal, rather than the Congress, has emerged as the biggest fly in their ointment. Party strategists say they are preparing for the AAP contingency. For one, BJP will show to the voters that the AAP is nothing but a vote spoiler and its fight is with the Congress. Resultantly, attacks on the AAP are to be restrained while the main line of fire will be concentrated on the Congress. And that is what happened in Delhi. The BJP attacked the Congress directly without touching upon AAP. That, strategists said, paid dividends otherwise AAP would nearly have won everything in Delhi.

The Congress, aware that scion Rahul Gandhi’s popularity is unlikely to sweep them into office, are keen to keep the spotlight on Kejriwal so that the battle looks like it is between him and Modi taking the focus away from Rahul. As part of the BJP game plan, the battle from now on would be between NDA and UPA, rather than individual parties. Says former union minister and BJP leader Syed Shahnawaz Hussain: “On one side you have the corrupt lot of parties in the UPA, on the other is the NDA which was able to demonstrate solid results under Atal Behari Vajpayee. Parties like BSP, SP and AAP, who support the Congress, are as responsible for corruption.’’

The trouble with the BJP here is that their support base clashes with the AAP, the young voter and the rising middle classes in urban India. Which is why the saffron party has intensified its special campaign to rope in youth voters through an extensive mass contact programme. First time voters are being wooed with the help of social media; key Modi aide Amit Shah heads this department. YouTube regularly uploads Modi’s speeches and its social media team has been instructed to go all out against Kejriwal.

Modi on his part listed five Ts – talent, tradition, trade, technology and tourism – to bolster up the country’s image. In his speech at the National Council, Modi said: “We are lucky that 65 percent of India is young, there is great potential here.

Aware that AAP’s voter too is urban, Modi unleashed his urban agenda. Pleading for setting up 100 smart cities and linking up twin cities to boost infrastructure and the creation of satellite cities next to urban metros, the Gujarat politician was trying to blunt the AAP edge.  In addition, specific towns and cities and their problems would find mention in the BJP manifesto itself and there is also a proposal to take out separate documents on problems which confront urban constituencies. Party president Rajnath Singh has already issued instructions to party functionaries to take note of important features in their constituencies and include it in the manifesto. With such a tight rope walk, no one is taking chances

tsi_02_feb_10AAP leaders are also aware that Left leaders have great ability to liaison with regional parties like JD (U), SP, Biju Janata Dal and others – if it means keeping Modi out, they could even support the Congress. It is this talent of the Left that the AAP hopes to cash in on. AAP in the meanwhile is keen to project itself as being different from the mainline parties, its unusual campaign tactics its USP. The anti-Congress mood currently sweeping the country which threatens to propel Modi at the top has been a cause of great concern for the Left. They know that if a BJP government comes to power, they would be set back by a good 10 years in Bengal and in the rise of AAP, the Communist leaders see an opportunity to pull themselves out of a hole they have dug for themselves.

Naturally, in a rapidly changing scenario like this – the Congress secure in the knowledge that it is headed for a rout – is keen to install anyone as the prime minister except Modi and all out efforts are underway to back a third front regime to whoever gets the maximum number of seats.

tsi_02_feb_11Razor’s Edge

In Delhi and Mumbai, it’s neck and neck between Modi and Kejriwal.

With Arvind Kejriwal and AAP in the fray, all bets are off. According to a fresh poll conducted by pollster AC Nielsen of 21 constituencies around Delhi and Mumbai, 10 seats will go to the BJP and eight to the AAP. Currently, 18 of these 21 are held by the UPA.

In Delhi, the race is getting closer. While 45 percent respondents voted for Modi as prime minister, 42 favoured Kejriwal.  During the Delhi assembly polling, a number of voters said they would back AAP in the assembly and BJP in the Lok Sabha.

Now that mood seems to be changing with more urban voters look towards Kejriwal as the PM. That cannot be too good news for Modi.

Well placed sources say that the Communists have been in touch with the likes of Mulayam, Nitish Kumar, Navin Patnaik and Sharad Pawar, aware that chances of these non-Congress, non-BJP leaders falling out over prime ministership remains high. That is what had happened in the nineties and it could well happen again. But the Left – secretly thrilled at the AAP bounty – is scarcely looking that far ahead; at the moment its primary interest is to slow down Modi’s campaign and and as a counter-measure, promote the interests of Arvind Kejriwal and company.

They are conscious of the fact that between the Congress and the AAP, they should be able to get enough seats to prompt the other regional parties to lend their support, even if from the outside. Before the Delhi elections, they were diffident like most, aware that archrival Modi was walking away with it. No longer now. They are pretty sure that the emergence of this new force, largely unpredictable, is exactly the shot in arm that secular forces needed in the country. That it could come through the Delhi assembly results has gladdened their hearts even further; it is at the centre of things.

While it is too early to say what could happen in the months to come before the elections, one thing is sure: if AAP does as well as it has done in Delhi, then the political topography of the country is going to change radically.