Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

#Election2024: Kejriwal And The Art Of Seeding Chaos

Delhi’s chief minister has developed his unique brand of politics which makes it difficult to decipher his political ideology or his stand on economic policy
May 15, 2024

At dusk on May 10, Arvind Kejriwal walked out of Tihar Jail after a Supreme Court bench, comprising Justice Sanjeev Khanna — next in line for the post of Chief Justice of India — and Justice Dipankar Datta, granted interim bail to the Delhi Chief Minister in the alleged liquor scam. The court reasoned that keeping an incumbent chief minister in judicial custody while the 2024 general election was underway would prevent him from campaigning and militate against the idea of democracy. Kejriwal’s main petition challenging the legality of his arrest on March 21 by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is pending before the same bench.

While granting interim bail, the court observed, “It is no gain saying that General Elections to Lok Sabha is the most significant and an important event this year, as it should be in a national election year. Between 650-700 million voters out of an electorate of about 970 million will cast their votes to elect the government of this country for the next five years. General Elections supply the vis viva to a democracy. Given the prodigious importance, we reject the argument raised on behalf of the prosecution that grant of interim bail/release on this account would be giving premium of placing the politicians in a benefic position compared to ordinary citizens of this country. While examining the question of grant of interim bail/release, the courts always take into consideration the peculiarities associated with the person in question and the surrounding circumstances. In fact, to ignore the same would be iniquitous and wrong.” Kejriwal has been asked to return to jail on June 2 and not perform any chief ministerial duty.

The consummate politician that Kejriwal is, he seized the opportunity to work the masses from the moment he stepped out of the gates of Tihar Jail.

With his torso jutting out through the open sunroof of an SUV, he addressed thousands of party workers and well-wishers who gathered to welcome his release amidst a sea of the party’s yellow flags. He said in his high-pitched voice, “I said that I will come out soon…I have come out now.” Then he launched a broadside against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Whenever anyone tried to impose dictatorship in this country, people have not tolerated it. Today, the country is passing through an era of dictatorship…I am fighting against it with all I have….140 crore people need to come together to defeat this dictatorship. I appeal to the people to save the country,” he said.

With his first speech after release, Kejriwal set the tone for the rest of the campaign, making clear that he wouldn’t shy away from attacking Modi directly and, by extension, Home Minister Amit Shah. The next day, on March 11, the convener of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) dug into his old and tested playbook of seeding chaos in the ranks of his opponents. While addressing a press conference at the party headquarters, Kejriwal invoked the rule made by Modi barring anyone over 75 years of age in the BJP from contesting elections or holding any position.

“PM Modi is turning 75 on 17th September. He made a rule that leaders in the party would retire after 75 years. Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sumitra Mahajan, and Yashwant Sinha were retired and now PM Modi is going to retire on 17th September,” said Kejriwal. He went on to articulate the strained relationship between Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath which is being discussed in hushed tones in political circles in the state. “If their government is formed, they will first dispose of Yogi Adityanath and then make Amit Shah the Prime Minister of the country. PM Modi is asking for votes for Amit Shah. Will Amit Shah fulfil Modi’s guarantee?”

This was vintage Kejriwal on display. Rewind to 2012-13, when he launched AAP. Almost every day he would level the most outlandish allegations against the Congress and then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit without offering a shred of evidence.

It would leave the Congress scrambling for rebuttal for the rest of the day’s news cycle. Something similar happened on May 11, but this time it was the BJP that was made to scurry to salvage straws from the chaotic hot winds of Delhi’s poll campaign.

For the rest of the day, the entire top leadership of the BJP remained busy trying to refute Kejriwal’s assertion. “Modiji ko badalna hi nahin hai, maine spasht kar diya hai. (We don’t have to replace Modiji, I have made it clear),” said Shah at a press conference in Hyderabad. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also clarified that the age rule will not apply to Modi. “Modiji will become Prime Minister for the third time and continue to build India and take her to greater heights,” he wrote on X.

But the founder of AAP wasn’t letting the BJP off the hook after it had taken the bait. On May 13, the man in the checked bush shirt gave the political knife one more twist. “All BJP leaders said that the 75-year rule does not apply to Modiji. But no one disputed the statement that Yogi would be removed in the next two months, after the elections. He will be removed as UP CM,” Kejriwal crowed.

Not much has changed in Kejriwal’s style of politics, whose highlight is shoot and scoot tactics. It was best described by Mayank Gandhi, one of the original founders of the India Against Corruption movement and then the Aam Aadmi Party, in his book, AAP & Down. “He made allegations against the most powerful leaders in the nation, sometimes flashing the flimsiest of documents as evidence. The media would cover this, having secured headlines for the day; the public, willing to believe the worst about politicians, accepted the news as fact. Anger skyrocketed.”

Today, he is deploying the same playbook in an attempt to create an internal rift within the BJP, which many party insiders say is simmering just below the calm surface. There is considerable anger in the Rajput (Thakur) community against the BJP for intemperate comments made by Parshottam Rupala, Union minister for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying.

It is also an open secret that in Uttar Pradesh, Kaiserganj strongman and former Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment by some of India’s top women wrestlers, has the blessings of Shah and is believed to represent an alternative to the all-powerful Adityanath.

Restiveness in the Rajput community north of the Vindhyas has been growing for some time after the Modi-Shah duo sidelined a host of powerful leaders from the community. The community feels that sidelining Shivraj Singh Chouhan from chief ministership of Madhya Pradesh, ignoring Vasundhara Raje Scindia in Rajasthan and denying a ticket to Gen (Retd.) V.K. Singh, the sitting MP from Ghaziabad, are examples of Modi and Shah’s animosity towards the community. This is the fault line that Kejriwal wants to exploit to stake his claim to an important position in the I.N.D.I.A. coalition. And what better way to split the divide wide open than to pitch the Thakur community, to which Adityanath belongs, against the baniya community within the party to which Shah (a Jain baniya) belongs.

It remains to be seen to what extent Kejriwal will be successful in whipping up turmoil within the BJP to the advantage of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, but it is easy to read his state of play. People still do not know where he stands on important socio-economic issues, but we do know that in the past, he has leaned towards Modi’s majoritarian politics. His party backed the abrogation of Article 370. Kejriwal blew hot and cold on the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and still continues to maintain and ambivalent position, his complete absence from the ground during the horrific northeast Delhi riots in February 2020, and his visible lack of stance during the year-long farmer agitation are just a few instances of his politics of convenience.

As Ajaz Ashraf pointed out in a column in mid-day, Kejriwal is both an insider and outsider on India’s political canvas. He switches roles with ease, depending on the political dividend he can reap in the short term to further entrench himself in the long term in India’s political matrix. He has done that quite successfully until now by seeding chaos within the ranks of his opponents, while ruling with a handsome dose of social welfarism. For the moment, he is on the side of the GOP, but for how long remains to be seen.         

Vivek Mukherji

He is the Executive Editor of Tatsat Chronicle and has more than 22 years of experience during which he held several senior editorial positions in print publications, news television and digital media platforms. The former Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated has launched two editions of one India’s largest circulating English newspapers and five magazines. He has written and reported on wide-ranging subjects from crime to politics, from technology to sports, from bureaucracy and governance to environmental issues.