Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee, and Rahul Gandhi – there are more things common amongst these three leaders than just being in opposition while Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.
Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal actually have been similar for a long time before Rahul Gandhi decided to join and complete the triad. Both the Chief Ministers are autocratic and there is no place in their respective parties for anyone who doesn’t suck up to them. When criticised on any aspect, both attack either the critic or blame some third party. Both went on to further the same kind of behaviour and policies against which they scored massive political victories. Both have zombies as online supporters. Both were, or maybe still are, favourites of Anna Hazare.
And both have gone mental against Modi in the last couple of years.
I’m not saying they have some medical problems that needs psychiatrist’s intervention – I don’t have access to their health records to infer either way – but I use ‘going mental’ as a figure of speech.
Both Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal use extreme language for Narendra Modi, conjure up irrational scenarios under Modi’s leadership, and blame him for everything under the sun. Imagine, when a private airline’s flight hovered over Delhi airport due to air traffic congestion, it was seen as a murder attempt at Mamata Banerjee by Modi government, while Modi is supposed to be sending people with chilli powder to murder Kejriwal.
It’s a bit unfathomable why Kejriwal has gone on this trip. He fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections against Narendra Modi from Varanasi and lost badly. He soon realised that attacking Modi is not going to help. He made amends. For 2015 Delhi assembly elections, he just went on saying sorry for having resigned from the post of Chief Minister in just 49 days.
He didn’t launch any virulent attack on Modi as part of his poll campaign; on the contrary, the party put up a banner on their official website that read “Modi for PM, Kejriwal for CM” as being Delhi voter’s choice. They had to soon remove it after facing embarrassment as this was for the first time that a rival leader’s image was being used by a political party to solicit votes for themselves.
Kejriwal swept the 2015 Delhi assembly elections.
And things went downhill for him and the Aam Aadmi Party after that, very fast.
The party broke, and those who were not loyalists of Kejriwal were thrown out, literally. Lokpal was forgotten, governance issues started cropping up, and there were allegations of corruption too. To hide his failure on these fronts, Kejriwal started blaming Modi for everything, with his famous “coward and psychopath” (with spelling mistake, possibly because Ashutosh was still in the party then) tweet for Modi confirming his transformation.
Around the same time, BJP had lost Bihar. The Congress fed ecosystem, which includes the large section of the mainstream media, was orgasming. This was second successive defeat for BJP in the Modi era after Delhi assembly elections. Though he was not any factor in Bihar, Kejriwal went on and hugged Lalu, signalling to the ecosystem that he was ready to take the national stage and make any “sacrifices” to see BJP losing.
This was followed with Kejriwal joining every event where he could attack Modi and appear like a national leader. From going to Hyderabad over Rohith Vemula’s suicide to having a rally in Delhi where a farmer committed suicide live on cameras, he tried to create a spectacle everywhere. He even tried to create controversy over surgical strikes, where he embarrassingly got support from Pakistan.
Then came demonetisation towards the end of 2016, and Kejriwal totally lost it. Coincidentally Mamata Banerjee too was most vocal opposing demonetisation.
All this while, Rahul Gandhi, the person who comes of age every few months, was watching Kejriwal and getting ready to come of age, again.
I had predicted in January 2017 that Rahul Gandhi would become more and more like Kejriwal. I had written:
“Punjab election results will also decide if Kejriwalification of Rahul Gandhi will continue or not. If Congress wins, Rahul will have all the reasons to believe that Kejriwalification helped him, and thus the process will continue. If AAP wins, Rahul Gandhi will yet again resolve to learn even more from AAP and that might actually accelerate his Kejriwalification.”
And was I not right! At this time, you can’t tell a Rahul Gandhi from Arvind Kejriwal. “Prime Minister chor hai” is the new “Modi is coward and psychopath”.
(update: Some time after this article was published, Rahul Gandhi used the term darpok i.e. coward for Narendra Modi. Insert ‘I told you’ emoji here.)
This happened primarily because Rahul Gandhi would have wanted the ecosystem, which his family so well nurtured, to put faith in him and not flirt with Kejriwal. Congress and the ‘ecosystem’ need each other. They might, and they do, fight with each other, but these are lovers’ tiffs. They can’t do without each other. Kejriwal unfortunately was bringing infidelity in this relationship.
Once Kejriwal lost Punjab, a state AAP was supposed to win on the lines of Delhi, the ecosystem realised that they better stick to Congress than flirting with Kejriwal. They fell in love with this charming young man who had come of age, again.
Now this is where the paradox lies. Acting like Kejriwal helped Rahul, but Kejriwal himself has been on decline ever since he went mental on Modi. He has not taken any corrective measures like he did after the 2014 Lok Sabha loss, but has gone only more mental against Modi, and there is nothing to suggest he’s going to taste any electoral success soon.
AAP is for all practical purposes finished outside Delhi, and even in Delhi the party is trying to get in partnership with Congress to save their face. The utility of Arvind Kejriwal in opposition rallies is that of a loudmouth troll who can say some absurd things that other leaders might find infra dig.
So why should one act like Kejriwal?
Why should Mamata or Rahul Gandhi be like him?
Answer lies in the difference between winning elections and winning the ‘ecosystem’. Going mental on Modi surely helps win the hearts of the Lutyens and the broader ecosystem. As explained earlier, Rahul Gandhi was copying Kejriwal to win back the ecosystem, which he has now successfully done.
Mamata too has won hearts of ecosystem. Hardly any Delhi based media talked about the Saradha chit fund scam, for which CBI, following SC’s orders, had gone to Kolkata to probe the police commissioner. Mamata ridiculously made it about ‘democracy under attack’ and Lutyens played along. The less said about Bengali media the better. Just two words are sufficient – The Telegraph.
These are perks on going mental on Modi, which is why, despite Kejriwal on decline, Mamata or Rahul will still be like him.
But this ‘ecosystem’ is not the only thing that you need to win elections – else BJP would have never won any elections – so a political leader will cleverly weigh this strategy.
Kejriwal is on decline as he’s no longer the darling of the Congress fed ecosystem and going mental on Modi alone is not enough to taste electoral success. This strategy could surely galvanise a particular set of people, or should I say a ‘particular community’, to rally behind you when it comes to voting, but it won’t generally impress everyone else.
For Mamata this is a sound electoral strategy too as that ‘particular community’ is in dominating numbers in her home state, so she doesn’t need to worry about Kejriwal failing to taste electoral success using the same strategy.
But what about Rahul Gandhi?
Catering too much to a particular community was one of the reasons Congress itself had put as one of the major reasons for 2014 Lok Sabha elections defeat, so will they risk doing the same in 2019 by Rahul going mental on Modi? Even for 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, many had argued that coming together of Congress and Samajwadi Party triggered a religious polarisation, for the only thing common between these two parties were Muslims.
Congress too realises that this could backfire and thus they are using two pronged strategies to neutralise this risk – first, make some ‘Hindu’ sounding noises too e.g. Rahul Gandhi becoming janeudhari Shiv bhakt Brahmin and newly formed Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan taking forward issues like cow protection, and second, divide the average Hindus on caste lines.
Interestingly, this is where Kejriwal is now copying Rahul Gandhi. Though he’s still to declare himself a bhakt of some Hindu god, he is on special mission to play caste politics by claiming that BJP has got names of Baniyas struck off from voter list. If Congress refuses to ally with AAP in Delhi, maybe soon we will see Kejriwal singing bhajan in some maata ka jagrata.
So in all probability, all three – Mamata, Rahul, and Kejriwal – will continue to remain mental on Modi, hoping that their strategy to neutralise the risk arising out of it will work. In fact, not just these three, even someone like Chandrababu Naidu appears to be going on the same route and maybe more could join.
However, there is one extra risk that they will create with this ‘mental on Modi’ strategy – they reinforce the belief that it’s Modi vs All in 2019 Lok Sabha election – a perception the ecosystem is working overtime to fight because it is supposed to help Modi.