Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is keeping his cards close to his chest and is likely to announce the names of the Aam Aadmi Party’s three Rajya Sabha nominees on his return to the capital next week. There has been widespread speculation regarding the candidates who would be entering the Upper House after the tenure of three Congress MPs—Dr Karan Singh, Janardan Dwivedi and Pervez Hashmi—comes to an end shortly before Republic Day.
It is evident that Kejriwal is likely to use this opportunity to expand and consolidate his party’s influence, both nationally, as well as in Delhi, where in the 2015 polls he had scored the most impressive victory in the electoral politics of India, winning not only the majority vote share, but also a record 67 out of 70 seats in the Assembly. He has annihilated the Congress from the political landscape of the city, thereby occupying its space as the major challenger to the BJP.
The AAP is yet to take a formal view on the matter, but it is well known that whatever Kejriwal, as the supremo decides, would be final. Several prominent AAP leaders, such as Kumar Vishwas, have already thrown their hat in the ring, though it is unlikely whether such persuasive and pressure tactics would bear much fruit. As a party activist, he has to bow to the decision of the leadership, irrespective of its bearing on his own future prospects.
Sensing that the announcement of the candidates from within the AAP fold could ignite a civil war of sorts, the party high command had some months ago sent feelers to former Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan, asking him whether he would come on board if he was chosen. The publicity accorded to this offer was essentially to send a signal within the party that Kejriwal was not averse to fielding eminent citizens if they could help in expanding the AAP’s base and thus adding to its prestige. Rajan, while confirming that he had been approached, declined the proposal and stated that he was doing so since his wife was against his joining politics.
Kejriwal’s current dilemma is that there are too many applicants for the three positions which would also mark his party’s debut in the Rajya Sabha. He thus is eager to explore the possibility of bringing in persons who were suitable for both the organisation and the country, and who could concurrently raise issues concerning Delhi where his government is constantly needled by the Centre, through the Lt. Governor, on one pretext or the other.
The four Lok Sabha MPs who were elected from Punjab have not been able to make their mark, and consequently AAP has not benefitted from their presence in the august house. These MPs’ focus is more on Punjab affairs and they lack the experience and finesse to leave an imprint in Parliament. However, once three additional representatives enter the Rajya Sabha, the party would have a larger profile than it has at the moment.
In the past three decades, the MPs who have been sent by various political parties to the Upper House from Delhi, with a few exceptions, have made negligible contribution to the city. They have rarely spoken about issues concerning the multifarious problems that exist, and have used their membership to solely position themselves in national politics. Therefore, since AAP has identified itself totally with the capital, its candidates would have to have a solid connection with Delhi, while simultaneously being conscious of the national scenario. In the larger and longer scheme of things, the party would require articulate persons bearing both a clean record and an impeccable image.
According to the political grapevine, the names of two Cabinet ministers of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government are under the active consideration of the AAP leadership. The names came into public domain after Kejriwal, at separate functions, shared the dais with them and also because both the said politicians are perceived to be anti Narendra Modi. However, the two have also been criticised for being close to a major business house, which in the past was on the Delhi Chief Minister’s radar. Therefore, it seems improbable that the two would make the grade, unless they fit into the larger scheme of the AAP, which is looking to emerge by 2024 as the principal challenger to the BJP in most parts of the country.
Kejriwal is a man who learns from mistakes. He burnt his fingers when his plan for a substantial role for himself misfired in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. After experiencing a huge victory in Delhi in 2015, he entered Punjab’s electoral arena. However, he did not succeed in making a dent to either the Congress or the Akalis. Wiser after the experience, he treaded carefully on the Gujarat turf, and thus decided against campaigning. Nevertheless, he allowed his party to field candidates in 30 odd constituencies so as to offer a token presence, leading to rumours that he had entered into some sort of a truce with the BJP.
However, his recent skirmishes with the Lt. Governor have dispelled this impression and so he is looking for space to move forward. In other words, his nominees will be carefully chosen. They possibly may include a social activist, a legal eagle and a grassroots worker. His objective would be to model AAP as a more visible party in Parliament. Between us.