Kejriwal testing the waters by floating his name as potential Punjab CM?
This is an age of disruption. And Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is supposed to be the master of disruptive politics.
So, it is no surprise that he has floated the idea of the first Non-Sikh Haryanvi Chief Minister of Punjab since Bhim Singh Sachar in 1956. Harayana and HImachal Pradesh were then part of Punjab or PEPSU.
Whatever Kejriwal does is never without cold calculation, as his past record tends to indicate. It is a different matter if those calculations are purely self-serving and are not in the interest of either his party or constituents.
So questions have been raised by the puritans as to how can a sitting Chief Minister of a State, where the party came to power on a personal mandate for him, even contemplate deserting the people who brought him to power with a lot of hope and expectations?
Some would argue that even in Delhi Kejriwal is a “non-playing captain”, whose primary occupation is tweeting criticism about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That is when he is not on naturopathy retreats or attending anti-BJP rallies in States other than Delhi.
He can easily continue to do the same even in Punjab as an absentee Chief Minister by appointing someone like Manish Sisodia to run the show. He would then be free to travel around the country to raise his national profile to be a Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, his ultimate destination, without even having the onus to answer for any of Delhi’s problems like pollution, garbage or crumbling infrastructure.
It is not without reason that Kejriwal has slipped his name into the Punjab fray through his trusted aide Sisodia. It is a smart way to test the waters. For obvious reasons, Kejriwal may not like to declare himself as the official CM face of AAP unless he is certain of victory. A defeat in the election would severely dent his image and set him back in the race he believes he is in.
There could be another possible angle to this move. By projecting himself as a potential candidate AAP may be able to polarise the non-Sikh Hindu vote, which normally the BJP would mobilise. At the same time, by keeping the choice openand people guessing till the end, some of the anti-incumbency vote of the Akalis may come to AAP, which would have otherwise gone only to the Congress as a default option.
But even Kejriwal knows the equations will not be as simple. First, SAD is not going to leave an inch and try to retain power by micro-management at the booth level, which AAP may not have the ground force to match. Second, the Akalis clearly see Captain Amarinder Singh as their principal opponent. Amarinder Singh on his part cannot afford large chunks of the anti-SAD votes to go in favour of AAP and, therefore, would do his best to thwart Kejriwal’s prospects. The tussle over Navjot Singh Sidhu is just one such instance.
Besides, Kejriwal and AAP have lost much of their innocence by own mistakes and the series of stings and scandals. Drugs as a rallying point seem to have lost steam with Congress no longer harping on it. It has been repeatedly seen that corruption is not the sole determinant of electoral choice, with voters finding the difference between parties is just a matter of perception.
With “surgical strikes” the BJP has regained some ground and the people of Punjab may feel more secure in voting for an alliance that is in power at the Centre. Therefore, the battle is now primarily one of Akali Dal vs the Rest. In this, AAP seem to have lost much of its early advantage.
However, losing in Punjab may not be such a big price for Kejriwal to pay as losing credibility with the people of Delhi. He can, of course, bank on the Delhi Assembly election following the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
So, in Punjab, he may be playing a “heads I win, tails you lose” game. Kejriwal has been lucky so far with his Machiavellian disruptions – but being clever by half does not always pay-off.