The upcoming MCD polls in Delhi has assumed disproportionate criticality. This is no longer just a local civic election. It’s Arvind Kejriwal’s last stand as the would-be challenger to Narendra Modi in 2019.
Victory will help him to put the humiliating losses in Punjab and Goa behind him and live to fight another day. Defeat could well pave the way for the demise of his government in Delhi as the first step towards snuffing him out.
AAP and Kejriwal In the Soup
The ground has been meticulously prepared to facilitate the unraveling of the AAP government. Twenty-one of its 67 MLAs face possible disqualification on the office of profit issue. The case is pending with the Election Commission which has reserved its order and could pronounce judgement any day.
Fourteen other MLAs are under investigation by Delhi Police for a variety of criminal cases and are out on bail currently. Health Minister Satyendra Jain has the CBI on his heels on corruption charges. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal himself is fighting both a civil and a criminal defamation suit filed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Should he lose the criminal case, he is in danger of going to jail.
There are myriad other headaches for him. AAP has been ordered by the Lt Governor and the Supreme Court to pay up Rs 97 crore for unauthorised expenses on advertising.
The Shunglu committee has indicted the Kejriwal government on several counts of maladministration including illegal allotment of land. The CBI is already inquiring into four cases made out by the committee. In addition, there are charges of nepotism and questionable foreign trips against some members of his cabinet.
BJP, Congress Won’t Spare AAP
Controversy has always been Kejriwal’s middle name. But it rolled off him like water off a duck’s back because of his stunning victory in the 2015 assembly polls in Delhi and the waves he was making in Punjab and even Goa before the state elections this year.
While the BJP government at the centre, cheered on by the Congress party from the sidelines, hounded him with a slew of cases and charges, it held its hand on taking action. The proverbial Damocles sword was left hanging over his head as a threat, largely because his opponents feared his popular appeal would result in a backlash against them.
However, the AAP’s decimation in Goa and its poor performance in Punjab, compared to the expectations it had aroused, have stripped Kejriwal of the Teflon coating that protected him. He has been left exposed and vulnerable to the questions raised by all the muckraking against him.
There are indications that the central government is preparing to close in on his government should he lose the MCD election. And make no mistake, there won’t be a murmur of protest from the Congress which has long regarded AAP as a threat to its existence because of the ease with which it gobbled up the GOP’s base in Delhi.
BJP Falls Back on Gujarat Model
The only thing that can save Kejriwal is a convincing victory in the MCD polls, which will reinforce his popularity with the people of Delhi and possibly stave off the attack that seems to be coming. The municipal election then has become a battle of survival for Kejriwal. He must win at all costs to save his government in Delhi.
The BJP has raised the stakes sky high by throwing itself into the campaign with money power and muscle, much like it did to win UP. It has rolled out a star list of campaigners starting with the Prime Minister himself and Amit Shah down to almost every cabinet minister of any consequence.
It has changed almost all its sitting candidates and gone through an intensive process of interviewing and selecting new ones. This is the Gujarat model that Modi used successfully to sweep the civic polls in his home state in 2011 when he was chief minister.
It has also deployed motorbike gangs of youths sporting saffron bandanas to roar through the streets and alleys of the Capital waving the BJP flag. This again is a tactic the party used successfully in Gujarat but has never been seen before in Delhi. It’s not quite clear whether these gangs are meant to intimidate or consolidate support for the BJP.
MCD Elections: Referendum on Kejriwal
One of the few things the BJP and the Congress agree on is Arvind Kejriwal. Both fear him and feel unsettled by his unconventional politics.
Had AAP won in Punjab, Kejriwal’s next stop was Gujarat where polls are due at the end of this year. He was already in touch with Patidar rebel Hardik Patel and seemed to pose a real threat to BJP’s hegemony on Modi’s home turf. Significantly, Kejriwal hoped to craft his campaign in Gujarat on the ruins of the Congress.
The fate of his government will be decided on 23 April when Delhi votes. It is indeed unfortunate that an election that should be fought on issues like sanitation, health and education that determine the quality of life in urban centres has become a referendum on Kejriwal and could well impact the longevity of his government in Delhi.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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