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By Arresting Arvind Kejriwal, Has BJP Given Delhi 2025 to AAP on a Platter?

It may galvanise the AAP cadres in Delhi, who will accuse the BJP for trying to occupy power through the backdoor.

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Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the alleged liquor scam has intensified national politics ahead of the general elections starting mid-April.

It has rejuvenated the Opposition which was appearing lacklustre in front of the formidable machinery of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

While many argue that it strengthens Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "zero tolerance for corruption" narrative, others argue that it could generate sympathy for Kejriwal who thrives on the politics of confrontation. 

Will this help AAP in the general elections and the State Assembly elections due early next year?

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Kejriwal is a Mini Modi

Kejriwal is a mini Modi in many ways – with an image of an honest, simple man (before his arrest at least), a concentration of power in the CMO (Chief Minister's Office) like the PMO (Prime Minister's Office), good oration in Hindi, administrative experience (Internal Revenue Service), omnipresent within his party, having a long-term vision, and an understanding of realpolitik.

30 per cent of voters who backed the AAP in 2020 Vidhan Sabha polls would not have voted for the party if he was not the CM face (according to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies ). This can be called the "Kejriwal factor" in Delhi.

This is akin to the Modi factor which works for the BJP in the national polls. 32 per cent of voters who backed the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls would not have voted for the party if Modi was not the prime ministerial face.

The AAP received 53.6 per cent of the vote share in the 2020 Vidhan Sabha elections out of which 16 per cent is due to the Kejriwal factor. The AAP’s lead against the BJP in 2020 was 15 per cent. This means that the entire difference between the AAP and the BJP in Delhi is accounted for by the Kejriwal factor.

Similarly, the National Democratic Alliance received 27.5 crore votes in 2019, and the UPA 16.5 crore, resulting in a lead of 11 crore, out of which 8.5 crore was due to the Modi factor (almost 80 per cent).

It may galvanise the AAP cadres in Delhi, who will accuse the BJP for trying to occupy power through the backdoor.

Vote share of AAP vs BJP in 2020

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

How Kejriwal’s Arrest Will Impact AAP’s Support Base

The AAP has thrived during confrontations with Delhi's Lieutenant Governor, with the Delhi BJP, and even the Congress unit. The AAP indulges in and enjoys playing Opposition politics while being in power, and the arrest gives it an opportunity to play to its strengths.

While the party's core ideology has been diluted, the AAP has created a strong pool of labharthis in Delhi and Punjab, just like Modi has all over India. 

45 per cent of respondents in the latest CVoter survey feel that this issue could impact the general elections. 48 per cent believe that it helps the BJP in its action against corruption while 52 per cent believe it could generate sympathy for Kejriwal. 

Delhi witnessed a split voting pattern, with voters overwhelmingly backing the BJP in general elections (2014, 2019) and the AAP in state elections (2015, 2020). This indicates that there is a big swing voter base. 

The arrest may not impact the AAP’s core base in Delhi and Punjab, but could negatively hurt its expansion plans in the rest of India. Kejriwal is the sole campaigner of the AAP and his absence from the expansion will hurt the party's plans in Haryana, Goa, and Gujarat. 

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The Lok Sabha elections are a personality contest between Modi and Kejriwal in Delhi and, to some extent, in Punjab. Since the Lok Sabha election is one for electing the PM and not the CM, this issue may not work to his advantage in Delhi.

The AAP has formed an alliance with the Congress for the Lok Sabha polls in Delhi. It has grown at the expense of the latter and their vote banks are fairly complementary.

What this does is that it would help in a seamless transfer of votes between alliance partners with minimum loopholes.

It may galvanise the AAP cadres in Delhi, who will accuse the BJP for trying to occupy power through the backdoor.

Seat Tally of Parties

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

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Impact on Vidhan Sabha

In the Vidhan Sabha elections, the Kejriwal ticket is at stake and here is where the impact of his arrest will be significant.

It will possibly galvanise the AAP cadres in Delhi who will accuse the BJP of making an attempt to occupy power through the backdoor. The party is highlighting the arrest of an elected CM as a 'murder of democracy' by playing the victim.

This could help the party neutralise 10 years of natural anti-incumbency and rally the Opposition in the state. The Congress has already formed an alliance with the AAP for Lok Sabha elections which could be extended to the Vidhan Sabha polls as well. 
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The BJP must be hoping to win the 2025 state elections by exploiting the natural anti-incumbency against Kejriwal’s government. A few sitting Members of Parliament have been dropped, presumably to focus on the state as the current Delhi unit is considered weak.

Kejriwal is the originator of "guarantees” and built a governance delivery model of free bijli/paani for the poor, and better education and medical infrastructure. Most of his guarantees have been copied by the Congress party. He hopes the labharthis will turn out again in large numbers in 2025 and hand him a resounding win.

We have seen in the past that going to jail doesn't necessarily reduce the clout of a leader. In fact, it increases their support, at least in cases like Jayalalithaa, Lalu Yadav, Jagan Mohan Reddy etc.

Unless Kejriwal is convicted before state elections due next year, which is difficult given the judiciary could take time, as it is a complex case, his arrest could actually help him rather than work against him.

Is the arrest the tonic required for the AAP’s hatrick and has the BJP given it on a platter to Kejriwal? Only time will tell.

(Amitabh Tiwari is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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