Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has moved into a virtual shell. Gone are the days of fiery proclamations, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of destabilising his government through the Lieutenant Governor. Nor is he labelling the high and mighty as corrupt issuing vituperative statements at the drop of a hat.
The visible change has come about because of electoral drubbings the party received in Goa and Punjab Assembly elections. AAP had envisaged a clear victory for itself in Punjab and a sizeable number of seats in Goa hoping to play a key role in government formation.
It lost badly to Congress in Punjab and to BJP in Goa. If some form of enthusiasm was evident among the top echelons, it was drained out completely in the municipal elections in AAP’s own ‘fiefdom’ – Delhi.
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Shocker from Assembly Polls
Hoping to conquer Punjab and Himachal, Kejriwal had begun harbouring national ambitions.
As he himself admitted in January 2016, “We are getting 100 seats in Punjab. After that our entire Punjab team will move to Himachal and replicate the same result there.”
After claiming credit for a large pie in Goa, he had hoped to gird up loins in its den in Gujarat. That would have made him a national leader, probably the sole challenger to Modi in 2019 because the Congress by then, would have been wiped out from Punjab, Himachal and even its last bastion of Karnataka. But, all those dreams could not be fulfilled.
Infusion of manpower and funds from Canada and Britain prompted charges that AAP was being propped up by pro-Khalistan extremist elements of these countries. Having returned to normalcy after two decades of militancy, the Punjabis tend to believe these allegations and refrained from voting AAP to power.
In Goa, the party had hoped to get the support of Christians, but the community in the end voted for the Congress, leaving AAP in a lurch..
This explains why Kejriwal has suddenly become silent and gone into self-imposed political exile. He is no longer running to Mamata Banerjee or Nitish Kumar to forge an anti-Modi front. Even his Twitter handle has become unusually quiet. His public appearances in Delhi, too, have become quite few and far between
AAP Knows it Can’t Fight Modi
AAP has also abandoned plans to contest forthcoming Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The party needed just six per cent votes in any of these states to gain the stature of a national party. Kejriwal had toured these states before campaigning for Punjab and Goa elections.
In a way, Kejriwal has conceded that he can’t fight Modi, let alone vanquish him. Not, at least for the time being.
The more names they called Modi, the more they alienated people. Hence, AAP has decided not to name Modi, by name, in its press conferences, speeches, statements or even during TV debates. They would rather abuse the BJP, not Modi.
The party also realised that alienating the media was also proving to be counter-productive. The same media, which had catapulted Kejriwal from an RTI activist to being a household name, had suddenly turned against him. The party has thus, been displaying neutral attitude towards the media.
Revamping AAP’s Image
AAP’s electoral analysts also found cadre’s disenchantment with the party leadership in general, and with Kejriwal in particular, responsible for its abysmal performance in Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections.
“The chief minister had been surrounded by a coterie of leaders who have barred his access to party cadre. Let alone workers, even MLAs and ministers were not able to speak with Kejriwal”, a senior AAP leader claimed.
That is why Kejriwal has replaced his advisor Ashish Talwar with Ashish Khetan. Now he is giving priority to open direct communication channels with legislators and party cadre instead of earlier way of communication through state in-charge and district in-charge.
The party, as a senior AAP leader admits, has decided to concentrate on developing Delhi into a model state before embarking on an expansion spree. The chief minister had taken the first step by bringing down power tariff and making water supply free to a large percentage of the population. His second such foray was in the field of medical care and education.
Mohalla Clinics and More New Initiatives
Kejriwal’s model of starting mohalla clinics has been hailed by the international media and is now being replicated in other states, including Gujarat. This way he took medicare to people’s doorstep, who no longer, had to trudge miles and stand in long queues at government hospitals. His next step was to make available all diagnosis and medicines free of cost to all – both rich and poor.
On the education front, Kejriwal spruced up state government owned schools, trained teachers in India as well as abroad, and put up biometric attendance systems to ensure they did not bunk classes. It was resulted in Delhi government school students performing better than private school students in class 10th and 12th board examinations.
The AAP government is planning a slew of new welfare scheme besides consolidating the existing ones. The party however, wishes to work on the ground level before rushing to the media.
Moreover, it doesn't want to rub the present LG Anil Baijal the wrong way, lest its plans are impeded. It has suffered enough due to its confrontational approach towards former LG Najeeb Jung. It seems that AAP has learnt a few lessons the hard way.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached @sharadgupta1. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)