The election results of Municipal Corporation of Delhi were the voters’ way of reminding Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in particular, that ambition, when not rooted in ground realities, often amounts to overreach, leading to downfall. In the 2015 Assembly elections, in an uninhibited show of faith and hope, Delhi’s residents had given Kejriwal a sweep that dreams are made of. Here was this quintessential outsider, the common man who was destined to greatness by cleansing the system of all impurities. The voters’ mandate was clear: rule the city-state in a way that Delhi becomes the beacon of good governance for the rest of the country. They did not believe his opponents who cried, a tad unfairly, that Kejriwal was a mere media creation. For, in Delhi at least he had built up sufficient organisation to be taken seriously, even before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. It is a different matter that Delhi’s voters were also clear that they wanted Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and Arvind Kejriwal as Chief Minister, which explains why the results swung from one pole to another in less than a year—a complete sweep for Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and a complete sweep for AAP in 2015. The trouble started when, instead of building on his base, the Aam Aadmi Party chief started jostling for political space on the high table of power, with both eyes firmly set on the Prime Minister’s chair.
No one can grudge Kejriwal his ambition of occupying that exalted chair. It is a democracy, after all. But lack of administrative experience and grassroots spread proved to be a hindrance, even as a combative Chief Minister started fighting shadow battles with an immensely popular Prime Minister, in an attempt to prop himself up as the sole alternative to the latter. As AAP’s young-men-in-a-hurry tried spreading their wings, they also started making much noise, but often for the wrong reasons.
Indian politics can be uniquely “factious”, in that different regions and states have their political preferences entrenched so deep that even the Modi-led BJP, in spite of being in government at the Centre, and in spite of commanding a “brute majority” in the Lok Sabha, is nowhere near conquering the bastions of certain regional parties. In such a scenario, a one-state—actually half a state—party like AAP has to do years of groundwork to actually come to power in areas far beyond its spread of influence. Ask Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee, both of whom have tried and failed in this venture. Unless of course the message and the messenger are strong enough to take care of voter inhibitions. So the results of Punjab and Goa were not a surprise, even though AAP did put up a reasonably strong showing in Punjab. However, even as Kejriwal launched on his campaign to conquer the country, his ground in Delhi started slipping, which is evident from the mauling the AAP received in the municipal elections. And this in the hands of a party, BJP, which was fighting ten years of anti incumbency. There is no denying that the BJP crafted a far superior electoral strategy by dropping all its corporators, silencing all brewing revolts and making the Prime Minister its mascot. It, thus, cleverly shifted the voters’ focus from ten years of poor performance. At the same time, the truth is, that the vote was as much against Kejriwal as for the Modi-led BJP.
CM Kejriwal still has a government to run, and that’s what he should concentrate on. Threatening councillors of divine wrath raining down on them from heaven or talking about EVM tampering, among other things, is not the best advertisement for a CM’s chair. The dictum is simple: less talk, more action. As else, a tale of great promise will end in a whimper.