As Arvind Kejriwal took oath as Delhi’s Chief Minister for the third time on Sunday, one question that lingered repeatedly was: what next for him?
Will he expand his politics beyond Delhi? Will the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) once again look at Punjab where it had once flourished but now seems to have disintegrated? Will he foray into other States to acquire the political heft that he needs to project himself as a ‘national leader’?
Such questions are asked whenever a political leader achieves a certain amount of success in his/her home turf. For example, when Narendra Modi won Gujarat Legislative Assembly elections for a fourth term in 2012, questions were asked if his next goal would be to lead the nation — which he eventually did.
Political observers had noted how Mr. Modi had spoken to his fellow Gujarati voters in Hindi, while expressing his gratitude for the love they showered on him and his desire now to contribute towards the nation’s growth.
So, has Mr. Kejriwal given any such hints in his speech after taking oath? Apart from expressing his love for Delhiites and his desire to work with Mr. Modi for a better Delhi, there were no overt suggestions.
But the clues lie elsewhere — in the radio messages , delivered in Mr Kejriwal’s own voice, where the AAP chief spoke of Bharat Mata’s every child getting employed, the sweat and toil of every farmer reaping profits, women feeling secure and so on. In the posters outside AAP headquarters, where it gave out a missed call number to get associated with ‘Rashtra Nirman’ (Nation Building), a word over which the BJP has almost claimed political patent.
If Lord Ram was an inseparable part of Bharatiya Janata Party’s politics, Lord Hanuman is now AAP’s mascot. From Mr. Kejriwal reciting Hanuman chalisa to the party distributing calendars with Lord Hanuman’s photo at the oath taking ceremony, AAP has developed its cultural symbols to go with its politics.
Analysts have termed this as being a more inclusive ‘cultural Hindu’ as opposed to hardline Hindutva politics of his rivals.
But this evolution of being a ‘cultural Hindu’ ensures that Mr. Kejriwal studiously kept out of university campuses — Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) — that had seen protests and violence over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and fee hikes. He also stayed away from Shaheen Bagh protestors .
Mr. Kejriwal’s opposition to the CAA or support to the JNU came in the form of tweets. As he went about seeking votes on the basis of his government’s work in the area of education, public health or public transport, many commentators believed that the AAP chief wanted to avoid ‘getting caught’ in a polarising narrative or being labelled as part of the ‘tukde tukde gang’.
But the strategy seems well beyond the Delhi elections. The AAP chief is laying claim to, if not reclaim, the cultural and religious symbols that endeared his rivals to the majority Hindu community, a tactic that the Congress too adopted in State-specific elections such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
It is in this backdrop that the BJP’s attempt to call him a terrorist didn’t succeed in Delhi and may not do so nationally.
The real challenge for AAP and its chief will come in other States as and when they decide to take the plunge. Delhi minister Gopal Rai indicated nation-wide recruitment for AAP that neither has a robust organisation nor identifiable leadership outside Delhi.
It’s influence in Punjab, the only State outside Delhi where it posed a challenge, too has been in the wane. Though there are rumours that though a sulking Navjot Singh Sidhu, who resigned as minister from Amarinder Singh government, could be roped in to revive the party in the State.
With the Congress party in a State of disarray, a few young leaders may see a future for themselves in AAP as an alternative platform.
So, the formidable challenge of building a robust pan-India organization will certainly weigh on Mr. Kejriwal’s mind while answering what next for him and his party.