Days before Gujarat election results (2017 Vidhan Sabha) were announced we wrote what the result could mean for Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. The way Rahul Gandhi lead a high pitched campaign in Gujarat it looked certain that Congress has decided to give BJP tough fight. Supporters of AAP were cheering to see ‘Mahaul’ against BJP. AAP and its supporters always support anyone who seems to challenge Modi, even if it means siding with Pakistan or echoing the sentiments of terrorists. However, we warned them about the dangers of Rahul Gandhi getting prominence in national politics. He will gain at the cost of AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal. This is what we wrote in Dec 2017:
“Basically, Congress has decided to assert itself for the 2019 general elections and they want to reclaim the political space they had given to AAP on lease. Congress is master at making and breaking careers of activists and politicians when it suits the party. Kejriwal could be the next in line of these use-and-throw politicians if Congress gets its mojo back.”
The first half of the prophecy (Congress asserting itself for 2019) is coming true. In the last 15 months, Congress has managed to keep Karnataka within its control and wrestle back 3 full states from BJP. Congress is peaking just at the right moment. SP-BSP has forged alliance in Uttar Pradesh which can push BJP back by at least 30 seats. Mamta Banerjee is holding the fort in West Bengal. Everyone in Mahagathbandhan has something to offer to the alliance and make things difficult for BJP. On the other hand, AAP is losing political capital. Kejriwal hasn’t won any political battles after Delhi 2014. AAP even lost Punjab which it was supposed to win comfortably.
Kejriwal probably understands that he is on a sticky wicket and that’s why has tried to woo Congress to form an alliance on 7 seats of Delhi. But an important tactic in negotiation is that you do it from a position of strengths. At least you should be able to bluff about having upper hand. AAP begging in front of Congress has completely exposed inexperience of AAP think tank. By repeatedly going public urging Congress to do alliance, AAP is clearly compromising, not negotiating. A party which got 67/70 in 2015 is requesting a party which got 0/70 seats to come together so that they can defeat the third party which got 3/70. Shows how less confident Kejriwal is about Delhi.
In 2014, AAP was on the rise. They had made a dream debut in Delhi and were looking to make a splash at the national level. 5 years down the line, their survival is at stake. If AAP fails to perform at 7 seats in Delhi, there will serious doubts in their possibility of winning back Delhi in 2020. Punjab, the only state beyond Delhi where AAP has a presence, has seen Amarinder Singh going from strength to strength. He is favourite to deliver a 100% seats from Punjab.
So what are Arvind Kejriwal’s options? If by some miracle AAP becomes part of Mahagathbandhan, they will lose their identity and unique appeal. Only reason AAP supporters tolerate Kejriwal standing next to Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Lalu so that Modi can be defeated. If the Mahagathbandhan (with Kejriwal being part of it) manages to throw BJP out and forms a govt under Congress leadership, next question for AAP would be, “Now that Modi is defeated, when can we go back to our basic promise of clean politics”. Will AAP be able to take up fights with tainted regional leaders of Mahagathbandhan? That will be too late.
If Kejriwal is serious about his brand of politics, AAP should go all alone in Delhi and Punjab. Try to control the damage in Delhi and consolidate his position in Punjab. AAP’s sweet spot is when they maintain equal distance from Congress and BJP. It fetched them rich dividends between 2013-2015. That’s their position of strength. In 2019 -2020 if they reach there, they will be able to win the trust of their party, supporters, volunteers and prepare for 2024. Kejriwal’s PM ambitions can wait till Modi is in active politics. Considering Kejriwal is 20 years younger than Modi, he has a lot of time at hand. Politics requires patience and if you don’t have it you learn it hard way.