The Silence(ing) of Arvind Kejriwal
North Delhi Mayor video takes the wind out of BJP's attack on Kejriwal in Bawana fire
"Iss factory ki licensing hamare paas hai, isliye hum kuch nahi bol sakte (the licensing of the factory is with us, hence we can't say anything)", whispered North Delhi Mayor Preeti Aggarwal in an aside that was captured on video that of course, went viral on the social media. The Mayor was on a visit to the firecracker warehouse in North Delhi’s Bawana where a massive fire has claimed 17 lives.
This was while she was questioning the absence of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. That the CM visited the warehouse, and has announced a probe, has been lost in Opposition translation with both the Congress and the BJP joining hands to attack the Aam Aadmi Party leader whose party, incidentally had won the Bawana bypoll last year despite the combined attack on him.
It is true, however, that the normally articulate and vocal CM has become far quieter since he entered politics, with the shift in stance particularly noticeable since mid 2017. He is visible on Twitter but rather low key in physical appearances and interactions in the capital.For instance, he retweeted Aggarwal’s comments on video. And his latest tweet even as one writes this is a retweet of BJP leader and actor Shatrughan Sinha excluding sympathy for AAP whose 20 legislators have been disqualified by the Election Commission.
There is a certain shift in strategy clearly, and while the party itself denies a change, Kejriwal is not that ‘jack in the box’ politician any longer, jumping up with responses, speaking his mind, and taking on the BJP and Congress leadership in a volley of humorous/angry comments. He is not as visible on Delhi roads either, and certainly has limited his meetings with the media.
For a politician whose USP (unique selling proposition) was in being seen as a people’s politician, breaking old norms, and reaching out through a novel style of communication, this is a big change. The reasons for this are not clear, not even to the party, as Kejriwal has been circumspect on this issue as well. But it has clearly to do with the big attack on him and his party by the BJP---with the Congress coming up from behind as well---with the CM and his party facing a litany of abuse and action.
The fight has been endless for Kejriwal starting from the day he won the elections, and routed the two main parties in Delhi. His growth was phenomenal and riding on the crest of victory he made forays into Gujarat at a time when the current youth leaders Jignesh Mevani and Hardik Patel were unheard of. His style was bold, and dramatic, sleeping on the pavement on a winter night in Delhi; driving in a convoy to then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s residence in Gandhinagar for answers to questions on development; and in short, jumping in where other politicians hesitated to tread.
He was slowly boxed in, with the limited and truncated authority of the Delhi government and its Chief Minister proving ineffectual before the might of a hostile Centre. Starting from the attack on him and his government by Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung who faithfully followed instructions designed to make the Delhi government ineffectual, to raids on the residences of his key officials and aides, to ink attacks, to defections engineered from within, to the current crisis of the disqualification of 20 MLAs the journey has been very difficult, even dangerous. The EC decision will come up in Delhi High Court tomorrow, and if disqualified, Delhi will face bypolls in these 20 constituencies again.
Meanwhile, there is no coordination between the BJP run Municipal body (as indicated by the Mayor herself) and the police that remains with the centre. The police officers are under unofficial directions not to cooperate with the Delhi CM and the past years have seen several examples of this, with the CM unable to move ahead on plans and projects as a result. After striving to establish control he realised this was a battle lost and as he said in November last year at a Delhi event, “Aaj Delhi Police humare pass hoti toh inki naak mein dam kar dete... inki aisi-ki-taisi kar dete. (If Delhi Police was under my government’s control, I would have given these trolls a hard time... would have taught them a lesson).”
Kejriwal sought to break out of Delhi by contesting the elections in Punjab and promising to fight Gujarat (Assembly polls last year). From predicted victory, he lost, and his loss of verve can really be tracked to this political point. The defeat in Punjab after which he gave up on his Gujarat ambitions altogether. More so, as the Aam Aadmi party has been unable to grow as a cohesive, well knit organisation with individual members being targeted ----Aap leaders insist it is by the BJP and its dirty trick department---to attack Kejriwal from time to time, and leave the ranks. Or threaten to. Kumar Vishwas is a case in point.
So clearly unwilling to join horns with the opponents every waking hour, Kejriwal seems to have adopted the least line of resistance. Silence. For instance on the disqualification of the legislators, other leaders like Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai have spoken out, but not the CM. There is a certain tiredness visible in the CM, accompanied by a visible dampening of ambition, as he has confined himself to the national capital. And that too barely.
AAP seems to be isolated from the Opposition space as well. And here the reason seems to lie in Kejriwal’s own lone wolf personality, as he finds it difficult to build alliances and solidarities, even if fragile. AAP leaders however, point to the attack from both the Congress and the BJP saying that both are working together to keep the fledgling party out of possible coalitions and alliances.
Perhaps. And by retweeting Shatrughan Sinha’s advice to AAP, “remember when the going gets tough, the tough get going” Kejriwal is lying in wait for the opening, and the opportunity to strike back.