The Battle For Delhi


[A version of this published in Huffington Post India]

There are no knockouts in Indian politics.  No matter how hard you have been hit, you can always bounce straight off the ropes and back into the ring.

Take the Aam Aadmi Party. It seems just yesterday that they were wiping their brains off the sidewalk after being hit by the Modi Express, and yet here they are, back for the Delhi elections, swinging hard and strong.

It’s well deserved this resurgence.In the last few months, they have brought their A-game. The AAP have ceased positioning themselves as a movement of Manoj Kumarian angels, or at least less aggressively so. No more the sanctimonious “Hum bangla naheen lenge, hum security naheen lenge” and other overt promises of piety. No more self-flagellating apologies about business class travel and of enjoying the fruits of celebrity-hood. No more the weekly dramas of exposes and press-conferences and other egregious attempts to hog the headlines. No more the excess flab of fortune-seekers who had quickly hitched themselves to the AAP bandwagon only to abandon the party during adversity or when not given tickets. No more the brand dilution in the form of Anna. No more spelling mistakes in Ashutosh’s tweets.

No more Roadies for Raghu Ram, which means he can fully concentrate on his future as an AAP ‘ambassador of youth.’

Okay maybe not the last one. That’s definitely a strike for the AAP.

Jokes aside , AAP seems to have learned their lessons for now.  Why wouldn’t they? Mr. Kejriwal is a smart man. No man who is not smart could have come from a Dipak Tijori support-to-the-hero to the chief minister of Delhi in so short a time, reducing his once-mentor to a footnote.   Smart men are greedy as much as the next guy but they learn their lessons better, more than those that are not smart. I doubt Kejriwal will make the mistake of “getting high on his own supply” (apologies to “Scarface”) and fall off the horse, in his obscene hurry to rush the gates, as he did so spectacularly during the General Elections.

This time, it seems he is deliberately going easy on the mayonnaise, staying away from the TV shows and debates and thinkfests, and concentrating more on fund-raising (ironically from the same NRI collective their supporters in the media deride as “Sanghi”). In his stead, he has let the redoubtable Ashish Khetan, once “independent” journalist , emerge as the media face of the party.  And by God, he is a force of Nature, outshouting and out-sanctimonious-blustering Arnab Goswami in his own show. With Mr Khetan and Mr. 83B Droid leading the media assault, Mr. Kejriwal is free to do what a good party supremo should do, pull the strings from behind. Some may balk at his continuous support of Somnath Bharti, currently facing charges of molestation, rioting and wrongful restraint,  but it is a smart political move. It shows the party rank-and-file that well-executed populism and unquestioned loyalty, and yes Mr. Bharti’s hounding out of innocent African women was immensely popular among local residents, will be backed. It’s rather hypocritical to call out Kejriwal for being unprincipled because every political party supports their most-effective rabblerousers, no matter what they do. Perhaps not movements but definitely political parties. Also smart has been the AAP’s shift from being “against both BJP and Congress” to “BJP is the devil incarnate”, a fact evidenced by the sidelining of the more Hindu-right-friendly elements like the Kumar Viswases in favor of staunch anti-BJP-RSS voices like Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan. This pivot allows them ideological space to strike up opportunistic alliances with Congress and regional parties, either overt or covert,  poach from the grand old party, and project themselves as a “secular” and “urbane” alternative to BJP.

The Modi storm in the last few months has left a vacuum in the Indian political spectrum. If anyone tells me that the Congress is an effective opposition, all I would say is “Are you serious, are you serious?” The Ammas are fighting to stay out of jail and the Didis have been cornered and the Mulayams are cutting their seventy-five foot cakes.  The space has never been more open for a new populist (yeah free Wifi) , socialist-communist, more-government-is-the-solution, urban, “secular” party, without the baggage of communal riots ,corruption and Azam Khan, to emerge.

But for Kejriwal to step in and be the primary challenger to Modi, he has to, at the very bare minimum, capture Delhi. Else he is a lord without a hold-fast, to be inevitably faced with desertions of bannermen and sellswords, from which he might take a lot of time to recover.

The stakes in Delhi have never been higher.



12 thoughts on “The Battle For Delhi

  1. I have gotten into this discussion a couple of times about how Arvind Kejriwal is a smart guy (he definitely has the credentials) who did a stupid thing (leaving Delhi and staking all on General Elections), rather than a not-so-smart guy who just got lucky. I’m extremely interested in seeing how well they’ve learnt their lessons. Also, looking forward to more posts from you.

  2. Moving on from products…
    Gimme shares of Apple Inc

  3. Typo on the third paragraph (been brought their A-game).

  4. It is too early to say anything about the outcome of the election in Delhi, but all parties are trying their best. The stakes for AAP are high because this election only can decide their future!

  5. Debasish Choudhury December 9, 2014 — 9:07 am

    The title is wrong. The headline should have been “A SWOT analysis for AAP”, because this is what you have done. Mr. Kejriwal has lost a lot of his ground, and is not at all expected to repeat the magic of 2013. Nor is he helping his image by making tall and improbable claims in his campaigns. One of his claims is to install a safety button in all mobile phones (to be used for an SOS call, targeted at young women). God knows how will he convince the manufacturers. Another claim that he has made is to provide education loans from the banks where the government would stand as the guarantor. Again God only knows how the banks would agree to this. Yet another claim is to have CCTV cameras, along with adequate lighting, in every street corner. This one, though not impossible to achieve, would eat up a lot of funds and efforts of the government. And people have now started to question the possibility of fulfilment of his promises. In all probabilities, it would be BJP with a very huge majority this time.

  6. Largely agree… I have always maintained that some good leftist politics was very much needed for our country. ( Most of the people who despise leftism is more due to its’ practitioners than its’ philosophy.
    A comeback by Mr. Kejriwal is a good thing in the sense he is slightly better than the contemporaries like Netaji, Didi, Nitish ‘secular’ kumar etc. But in a long run I don’t see much hope for the party until some good politicians join in, for this Kejriwal need to democratize his party leaving his position as supremo, and that is very difficult to happen.

    1. There is a surfeit of leftist politics in India. Even the BJP isn’t fiscally conservative enough or pro business enough for my taste. I don’t care for social right wing.

      AAP is just a repackaged JDU

  7. Winter is coming. And, so is another season of game of thrones in Delhi. We shall see…

  8. I really wish AAP to do well in Delhi. Even if they do not form Govt, 20-25 seats would help to stay relevant in politics. With the discourse getting modi centric there is a huge vacuum in opposition space. AAP a form of public movement was not ready to come to power and it came too soon to them, may be sitting in opposition for a while would have helped. Whether its AAP or whatever there is a gap for a grounded political outfit. We cant write off anyone in India easily but the various janata parivars and congress have reached their sell by date unless there is serious shake up in their style and leadership.

  9. Kejriwal is just showing his true colours now and behaving like the true blue politician that he is. All he did during the delhi assembly elections was to eat at the bjp’s voter base and deny them an outright win. He is now showing that there was at least some substance to the allegations that he is just a congress stooge, propped up by the congress to eat into the bjp’s hindu votebase (the minority votes are safe in the congress’s pocket, as was also seen in the fact that the only/ majority seats that the congress won in the delhi assembly elections were in minority dominated areas, which also proves that contary to what most ‘intellectuals’ proclaim, muslims dont give a damn about development, economy, education etc. For them religion is paramount and all they want is a minority appeasing party like the congress, SP etc – so their leaders might complain about being treated as a religion based votebank but that is really what they are).

  10. AAP is a very good opposition, and I wish it emerges that way. They can think objectively only when they are not in power and that’s what we need to have an effective democracy.

  11. Arnab da,
    Kejriwal must have throughly read your “deconstructing kejriwal” series by now.
    Keep up the good work.

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