It's nice to imagine — John Lennon made that clear decades ago.
In that spirit, let’s imagine what Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would have done if Delhi were a full state; if the Delhi government also had control over the Delhi Police (law and order) and better utilisation of land (the Delhi Development Authority). How about if AAP won an election and formed the government in a full state, say Punjab or Haryana? What could be the sea of changes it would usher in?
Since it is unlikely that Delhi will receive full statehood, and AAP forming a government outside Delhi being a distant reality, let’s focus on the now and the present — the road for AAP after its impressive victory in the Delhi assembly elections.
Here are four challenges AAP is likely to face in the road ahead.
One: No ambiguity about the CAA-NRC-NPR.
Right through Delhi’s election campaign, Kejriwal avoided giving a clear comment on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) with the flexibility that would put a Russian gymnast to shame. He was particularly evasive on the anti-CAA protests across India, and especially those underway in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. This could have been AAP’s election strategy — to keep Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan as the party’s face associated with the anti-CAA protests and, thereby insulate ‘Brand Kejriwal’ or the party’s larger image from sections of voters who favour the CAA.
However, now that the results are out, Kejriwal and AAP must unambiguously state their position on the CAA. This is important because the Centre is moving ahead with the legislation and soon the state will have to cooperate with its implementation. The question is: Will AAP join the anti-BJP parties in opposing it, or support it as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies have, or stay in between like the misleadingly indecisive Janata Dal (United)?
Riding on a historic mandate, Kejriwal’s decision will crucially influence the future course of the anti-CAA protests.
Two: Jostling in the right-wing space.
A reason why AAP refused to make its views known on the CAA was because there is a fluid right-wing voter segment (about 18 percent) that the party was targeting. This segment is the difference in vote share the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won in Delhi in the 2019 general elections (56.86 percent) and the vote share the national party won in these assembly polls in Delhi (38.5 percent).
By remaining ambivalent on the CAA, by reiterating his Hindu faith and subtly slipping it into the electoral discourse, Kejriwal and AAP were not only able to win most of the median voter base (the Right-of-Centre voters), but also virtually dominate the Centre-to-Left electoral space.
AAP’s proposal for a ‘Deshbhakti’ curriculum in schools, Kejriwal’s ‘temple run’ during the campaign and after the results, AAP leader Sanjay Singh’s statements calling Kejriwal a “real patriot” and that Delhi’s results reflected Hindustan’s victory, and slogans of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ from the AAP victory celebrations — all these suddenly show the nationalist space, which until now the BJP treated as its fief, is challenged and claimed by AAP.
Add to this the comment by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) General Secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, on February 9, stating that opposing BJP did not mean opposing Hindus. These are clear indications of the widening of the political representation and ownership of the nationalist and Hindu-majoritarian discourse in Indian politics.
While this jostling with BJP is electorally benefiting now, it could be difficult in future for AAP to maintain this balancing act.
Three: The Kejriwal cult.
On February 11, as counting was underway, one-year-old Avyaan Tomar caught the attention of the media waiting outside AAP’s ITO office. Tomar was dressed up as Kejriwal, full with the cap, muffler and a fake moustache. In a way Tomar’s Mufflerman symbolised a dilemma AAP will increasingly face — that Kejriwal is synonymous with AAP and vice-versa.
AAP’s growth has been centred on Kejriwal — while this has done the party well till now, going ahead it could be a hindrance. While internal party dynamics are often a mystery in political parties in India, if AAP does not gain a character independent of Kejriwal, it could soon become like many other regional parties across India — a one-leader show.
Four: Expansion dreams and roadblocks.
As an extension of the earlier point, one of the biggest challenges for AAP will be whether or not to expand to other states. The temptation to expand after a resounding victory will be high, but scars from the 2014 general elections and assembly polls thereafter will be bitter reminders.
To a limited extent it has managed to create a respectable space in Punjab — but it has to be seen if it can maintain and improve on from here. A debilitating factor for AAP is the above-mentioned over-dependence on Kejriwal. If the BJP lacked a CM face in Delhi, then AAP lacks a credible CM face in other states. It also needs to devolve a more robust network of leaders in other states. AAP has proved itself as a progressive and viable alternative in Indian politics, but now it is important that this model does not get limited to Delhi.
As the party grows so will the problems associated with it. That about 31 of its sitting MLAs saw their victory margins reduce — including Kejriwal — should get the party thinking.
It will be interesting to see how AAP approaches these four challenges in its road ahead.For more Opinion pieces, click here.