Out on bail, can ‘victim’ Kejriwal sway Delhi? | India News

NEW DELHI: When Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal led a protest march of Aam Aadmi Party to BJP headquarters in the capital last Sunday against the arrest of his close aide in an alleged assault case, it was seen as an extension of a resolute fight he waged against Centre.
Out on interim bail for three weeks to campaign for his party in the ongoing polls, Kejriwal has made the BJP-led central govt’s alleged attempt to “crush and break” AAP by “framing” party functionaries in “fake” cases of corruption the main election issue this time.
The AAP national convener himself was arrested on March 21 in an alleged money laundering case linked to a now-rescinded excise policy, just five days after general elections were announced in the country and the model code of conduct was imposed.
AAP contended that BJP and the central agencies, through the lieutenant governor, have attempted to chip away at AAP’s and Kejriwal’s image bit by bit by painting its govt and ministers in Delhi as corrupt and inefficient, which culminated in Kejriwal being fi nally put behind bars just when the campaigning for the parliamentary elections was to start.
The arrest is a result of a running battle between Delhi govt and Centre — acting through the LG – which has turned this election virtually into Kejriwal versus BJP.
“Dekho dekho kaun aaya, sher aaya sher aaya (Look, the lion has arrived)”, and “Jail ke taale toot gaye, Kejriwal chhoot gaye (The jail locks have broken, Kejriwal is free)” — the sloganeering outside Tihar jail when Kejriwal was released after an incarceration of 50 days, set the tone and tenor of AAP’s campaign for the remaining phases of the elections. That he managed to get 21 days from the Supreme Court to canvass for his party and the INDIA bloc has infused life into the opposition campaign.
AAP thrives on Kejriwal’s leadership and image. Because of his excellent oratorical skills and ability to connect directly with the masses, he is seen as someone who can challenge BJP and its top leadership directly.
Kejriwal’s re-entry into the poll campaign, almost in the middle of the election season, has instilled enthusiasm not just in AAP workers but also brought cheers to Con gress candidates. The grand old party has been facing ignominy for the last few years after frequent electoral failures in the capital since the 2013 debacle in assembly polls. The Delhi CM has held road shows for all three Congress candidates individually.
The alliance in Delhi has turned the contest on seven seats in the capital — four being contested by AAP and three by Con gress — into a direct fight, instead of a three-cornered one in the last two polls and Kejriwal’s relentless campaign may prove invaluable.
The Delhi CM has been mindful of the fact that to get the anti-BJP votes polled in the favour of alliance candidates, a cross-party transfer of votes has to happen. Amid serious reservations from a section of party functionaries, Congress, which was in the “kabhi haan, kabhi na (now on, now off)” mode for a long time, entered into a seat-sharing arrangement in Delhi with AAP hoping for its political revival in the national capital. A section of Congress, which favoured the alliance, has also taken heart from what it considers to be public sympathy for Kejriwal that may get generated because of the relentless efforts to derail his administration.
If BJP has Narendra Modi, AAP and the INDIA bloc have Kejriwal in Delhi, still going strong with his agitational mode of politics, as evident in the demonstration last Sunday demanding that all his party functionaries be arrested en masse.
AAP initially turned the election into a referendum on Kejriwal going to jail, asking people if he should resign after arrest or run the govt from inside the jail. The narrative changed after his conditional bail and Kejriwal linking his own freedom with the outcome of the ongoing polls on June 4. “If you press the button for the AAP candidate on May 25 (and make him win), I will not need to go to jail. But if you press the lotus button, I will have to go to jail again,” Kejriwal has repeated in his public meetings across the city.
The task at hand for him is not just restricted to Delhi and Punjab where AAP runs state govts and the stakes are higher.
With opposition candidates also seeking his presence for campaigning, he is punching way above his weight, it seems. He often calls AAP a “chhoti” (small) party. The David-versus-Goliath allusion is not lost on people.
He has been travelling constantly. In Lucknow, he shared the dais with Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav. He made a visit to Mumbai, with Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, for an INDIA bloc rally with Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, NCP (SP) chief Sharad Pawar, and Sena (UBT) head Uddhav Thackeray to address a rally. He also appeared in a rally with former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s wife, Kalpana, and incumbent CM Champai Soren in Jamshedpur.
AAP’s campaign focus also witnessed a turnaround since Kejriwal came out of jail. While the party initially attacked the Centre on the alleged “illegality” of his arrest just ahead of the elections to prevent him from campaigning, it shifted towards “saving the country from dictatorship”, his “10 guarantees” and bringing him out of jail.
His biggest attack on BJP came in his first press conference a day after his release when he declared that home minister Amit Shah would replace PM Modi once he turned 75 in Sept next year. As the BJP leadership was forced to respond, Kejriwal used the narrative again in a presser in Lucknow.
In the capital, however, AAP’s main battleground, it would be interesting to see whether people will buy Kejriwal’s argument that the welfare schemes run by his govt — free power, water, bus rides, and pilgrimage to the elderly — may go away if the BJP is re-elected or will they see merit in what BJP portrays as Modi’s relentless battle against corruption.

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