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Kejriwal's political gamble is a minefield

December 23, 2013 19:11 IST

By agreeing to form the government in New Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has taken a gamble where his reputation has been put on mortgage. Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt looks at the road ahead for Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party.

On Monday, December 23, at around 11.30 am, when Manish Sisodia, a founder-member of the Aam Aadmi Party, declared that Arvind Kejriwal would be New Delhi's next chief minister and that the AAP would form the government, Kejriwal neither smiled nor greeted the public and media.

The absence of excitement on Kejriwal's face and at the AAP's office in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad district clearly showed that he has taken a gamble where his reputation has been put on mortgage.

Kejriwal broke his oft-repeated promise to New Delhi voters that 'We will neither take nor give support to the Congress or BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) after the election.' He has opted for political compromise.

Many people who have observed Jayaprakash Narayan's movement in the mid-1970s and V P Singh's rebellion against the Congress in the late 1980s think that Kejriwal has walked into a trap and taken the road to power that will be full of political landmines planted by the BJP and Congress.

The Congress party has agreed to support an adversary who has exposed Robert Vadra, Congress President Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, in a multi-billion rupee land scandal in Haryana.

Kejriwal will become chief minister with the support of 'thieves' as he has often called Congressmen, only because the AAP and Congress don't want a re-poll along with the Lok Sabha election of 2014. Both parties do not want a re-election in Delhi to be affected by the 'national mood'.

Kejriwal and the Congress fear that if Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, plays his cards well and creates a wave all over India for the BJP then the verdict of an assembly re-election in Delhi would go the BJP's way.

If Kejriwal had not agreed to form the government by making a huge compromise, then a re-election along with the Lok Sabha election would have been unavoidable.

The uncertainty of the national mood before the general election has forced Kejriwal to compromise.

If he had focused on preserving his high stakes on the national political chess board, he was at risk of losing the state.

In the best-case scenario, what Kejriwal and the Congress want is a re-election for the New Delhi assembly anytime after the 2014 Lok Sabha election where the situation minus Modi fever may help both parties gain on its own merit.

The Congress party that was decimated in the Delhi assembly election knows well that its chances at the national level diminish each day. It is clear that Sheila Dikshit's government bore the brunt of both anti-incumbency and popular anger against the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.

With power slipping out of its hands at the Centre, the Congress party understands the need to hold onto power in the states. Every state counts for the party's future at the national level.

In New Delhi, the Congress won 8 seats and 25 percent of the vote share; the AAP won 28 seats and 30 percent of the vote share while the BJP won 31 seats and 33 percent of the vote share in the 70-seat assembly.

According to high-level sources in the Congress after the results on December 8, Dikshit -- who lost her seat to Kejriwal -- convinced Sonia Gandhi and party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi to extend support to the AAP in the hung assembly.

Congress sources say Dikshit wanted to change her stand later, but it was too late.

After Kejriwal's declaration on Monday that his party would form the government, Dikshit issued some strong statements. She warned Kejriwal that her party's support is not 'unconditional' and said continuation of Congress support would depend on the AAP's performance.

Many Congressmen in New Delhi think the support to the AAP is a political "blunder we will regret for a long time to come."

Kejriwal has evidence of corruption in Delhi's Vidyut Board and Jal Nigam that could eventually indict members of Dikshit's government. Dozens of officers in both organisations have been clandestinely helping Kejriwal gather evidence against the Dikshit government.

Will Kejriwal not act against the Congress's acts of omission and commission of the last 15 years until the 2014 election ends to save his chair?

According to a source privy to deliberations of the debate within the Congress party, "Kejriwal will try to harass the Congress. He will try all gimmicks by taking popular action. Ultimately, he will be exposed and the BJP will gain. The Congress will not get anything. Credit will go to Kejriwal and the discredit and blame will be passed onto the Congress."

The Congress, the source added, has entered a lane with no exit route.

In this 'hate triangle,' is even a semblance of governance possible?

Unless a miracle of bigger proportions than the surprising election results occurs, the Kejriwal government is bound to remain unstable, unpredictable and constantly face odds that will not allow it to function in a manner the AAP promised voters.

Before taking a tremendous risk and making his first big political compromise, Kejriwal tried damage control by explaining how his party had gone back to the people to ask for a way out, in a situation where his party could not get a majority, but did get a stunning mandate.

The AAP statement said through an online survey, SMSes and phone calls, the party received 697,310 responses of which 523,183 were valid. Only 265,966 responses were from Delhi. Of these responses, 197,086 (74 percent) of valid Delhi responses asked Kejriwal to form the government.

These weak statistics exposes the AAP's claim of having wide support for its gamble.

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley on Sunday drew attention to how the AAP has to 'retract its public commitments of not accepting support from the Congress party. It has, therefore, decided to enact a farcical referendum.'

'A question is asked whether the AAP should form a government,' Jaitley said. 'Obviously, they are all thrilled with the idea. In the process, a statistical wonder is produced wherein less than 30 percent people voted for the AAP in the election, but more than 75 percent want it to form a government.'

'In effect, political opportunism is being masked with the idea of popular sanction behind it,' Jaitley added. 'A space is being created wherein its leaders could argue 'We were not hungry for power, we would not be taking Congress party's support. But we are democrats who are now bowing to the popular will of the people. It is the people who want the AAP to form the government with Congress support.'

In effect, in the AAP people's democracy, out of New Delhi's 12.3 million voters, some 197,000 people gave Kejriwal the go-ahead to form a government, which he was reluctant to head.

At his December 15 press conference, Kejriwal told the media that he was facing a 'dharam sankat' (dilemma) in taking a decision whether or not to form the government.

In just over a week, he has bowed down to the reality of Indian politics.

Notwithstanding, his difficult decision on Monday, Kejriwal and his party are the stuff that dreams are made of.

His rise to power is an incredible phenomenon in Indian democracy. His forming the government is the empowerment of Indian voters.

Whether the AAP succeeds or fails is a smaller issue if compared to the people's desire behind the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party.

He will surely do a few good things, but he may not be able to do most things.

What we have to watch out for is how Kejriwal will govern as chief minister with Robert Vadra's mother-in-law deciding how many days this historic experiment should continue for.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi