No Longer a Threat, Kejriwal Has Accepted an Unequal Truce With Merciful Modi

Has Mr Modi changed or has Mr Kejriwal reconciled with the political situation? In my opinion it’s a mix of both, writes Ashutosh.

Has a compromise been worked out between Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi? This question is on everybody’s mind in journalistic circles as well as in the corridors of power.

It so happened that after Mr Modi was re-elected as the Prime Minister, the Delhi CM had gone with his deputy Manish Sisodia to meet him. This meeting, originally scheduled for ten minutes, was apparently just a courtesy call but it went on for more than half an hour. There is also a buzz that Modi has in recent times been more than benevolent with his one-time arch political enemy.

It is being said that the central government is no longer working as an impediment in any work related to the Delhi government. In its first term, the central government was only putting up more and more obstacles and ensured that nothing that the Kejriwal government proposed could see the light of day.

Central ministers used to avoid meeting AAP leaders and people’s representatives and in private conversations they would confide that the PMO had conveyed to them to not cooperate with the AAP and its government.

Some very senior ministers had told AAP leaders that they wanted to help but were helpless and did not want to be seen working with AAP.

So what has changed now? Has Mr Modi changed or has Mr Kejriwal reconciled with the political situation? In my opinion it’s a mix of both.

Kejriwal shares a very complicated relationship with Mr. Modi. Kejriwal emerged as phenomenon in Indian politics in 2013. Before forming a political party, Kejriwal was known to people as a civil rights activist under whose leadership the anti-corruption movement shook the foundations of the Manmohan Singh government and discredited the Congress party.

This coincided with the time when Mr Modi was planning to launch himself into national politics as a prime ministerial candidate. His first priority was to win the Gujarat assembly elections, which he successfully did in December 2012. As he was getting ready to take a leap in national politics, Kejriwal announced the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party. He wanted to make a beginning from Delhi but everybody knew that he had national ambitions.

To begin with, he was not taken seriously but when AAP surprised everyone by winning 28 seats in Delhi, he was hailed as a great leader who had a vision and could lay the path for alternate politics. This happened a few months before the 2014 parliamentary elections. I was told by a senior BJP leader that Modi was a worried man. His concern was genuine. He knew that if Kejriwal could create such magic in Delhi without any political background and legacy then he could upset his chances too.

Not that he was expecting Kejriwal to sweep the 2014 elections but he knew that presence of AAP would take many seats which otherwise would go to BJP and could dim Modi’s chances to be Prime Minister.

When the whole country was looking to him with great expectations, Arvind Kejriwal committed his first political blunder. He resigned as the chief minister. He had no logical explanation for his act. Modi and the BJP found an opportunity in his resignation and he was painted a “bhagoda” (deserter).

When I was contesting the Lok Sabha elections soon after that, I could see that people were very angry with him and had believed what was fed to them by the propaganda department of BJP.

Then he made another mistake. He decided to contest elections from Varanasi against Modi. This was the time when he was seen, along with Modi, as purveyor of alternate politics.

People said that he was too ambitious and was not willing to wait and wanted to become Prime Minister. This damaged his political reputation quite badly. People used to say either he was too naive or too impatient and immature.

Once he apologized for his resignation the very same people forgave him and he won 67 seats out of 70 in Delhi. This was a miracle; defeating Modi when he was considered invincible.

It was this victory that convinced Modi that Kejriwal had to be stopped and discredited otherwise he would emerge as a considerable threat at the national level. In fact, in one of the meetings at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, this was conveyed to him by the national security adviser Ajit Doval. He was told that if AAP agreed to confine itself to Delhi then his government would face no problem. Kejriwal was on a different plane in those days. He did not take that advice seriously.

And I can say in hindsight that he paid a very heavy price. I don’t need to delve into how his MLAs, leaders and ministers were hounded and how his own office was raided by the CBI and how bills passed by the Delhi assembly did not get clearance from the central government or from the L-G of Delhi.

His fights with L-G Najeeb Jung and later with Anil Baijal and also with Delhi police commissioner BS Bassi are well-known. This was the time when AAP was getting income tax notices on a daily basis and in fact was ordered to vacate its party office. Those were dreadful days for AAP and the party was aware that it is facing one crisis after another because it had annoyed the top executive in the country. In this game, AAP and Kejriwal were the definite losers.

The Punjab elections proved that AAP had lost the sheen, then the MCD elections proved that now it was struggling to save its fort. The messages from parliamentary election 2019 in Delhi made it crystal clear that Kejriwal and his party is like any other party and it has lost its moral capital and revolutionary zeal for alternate politics. It is in a sense the real undoing of a movement started by Anna Hazare whose real architect was Kejriwal. Once he and his party turned into an ordinary political party it became very easy for Modi to deal with him.

Now it is business as usual. Kejriwal is no longer a threat to anybody. Modi after 2019 is beyond his reach. Kejriwal knows that his survival depends on the mercy of Modi.

If Kejriwal is fighting for survival then why will he indulge in adventurism and why will he further antagonize him? On the other hand, Modi is too powerful to bother to engage in a fight with Kejriwal. He, in a way, succeeded in decimating a potential rival. And now he has no rival, neither in his party and nor in other parties. So, it’s not a compromise between the two but the situation is so creatively inclined that Modi has become merciful and Kejriwal has to accept his sovereignty. The fight is unequal, as is the truce.

(The author was formerly with AAP. Views expressed in the article are personal).