The triangular electoral contest among BJP, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly and the all-important Municipal Council of Delhi (MCD) polls- coming less than two years before 2024 Lok Sabha elections- is significant for all the three players though on different notes. The common thread, even between the ideologically diametrically opposition BJP and Congress, among the three is that the outcome will have important bearing on their respective future course of action more so that of Congress and AAP.
Of all the three if anyone has a bigger stake in these elections, which is reflected in its high-octane campaign in Gujarat and Delhi, then it is the AAP. The bigger stake because the AAP chairman and Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal seems to have played all his cards and tried to match the BJP’s well-oiled machinery bit by bit, more so in the matter of resources, though AAP lacked organisational structure in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The stakes for Congress could have been even higher from an analytical point of view. Given the fact that the AAP mysteriously disappeared from Himachal in the midst of the campaign thereby helping in making a BJP versus Congress straight contest with latter finding itself in the reckoning for power and its mysterious lower profile campaigns in Gujarat and Delhi, the party seems to have tactically lowered the stakes lest being lambasted after possible defeats.
Mr Kejriwal’s future hinges on the outcome of elections in Gujarat and Delhi for different reasons but common thread of entering the Lok Sabha elections on a high. Despite having a government in the neighbouring Punjab where AAP had registered an emphatic victory, months back and using it as a psychological advantage for Himachal Pradesh, ostensibly, he strategically thought it better to challenge the powerful BJP duo of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Home Amit Shah in their den, even before the MCD elections were declared.
First Delhi because it is not only the place of birth of AAP where it formed the first government but also its foundation and encore. So, despite having fared poorly in the 2017 MCD elections, Mr Kejriwal has jacked up his stakes. A victory in Delhi will certainly strengthen this encore and will provide him significant elbow space, politically and psychologically, after dethroning BJP which has been in power in MCD for the last 15 years.
Although there are three players in the electoral arena, presumably and due to Congress’s low profile-deliberately or otherwise, on paper visible was a BJP-AAP contest. Can Congress be benefitted by this dual to try and retain its position as the main opposition?
Upstaging BJP under the very nose of Modi-Shah duo in MCD, which has a budget higher than many of the mid-sized and smaller states, will certainly give Mr Kejriwal significant political advantage. Becoming main opposition, replacing Congress, in the MCD house will also be a consolation but with some significance. The advantage of this strengthened encore and ruling the capital-state of Delhi which acts a fulcrum for any opposition unity, so will rest with him. Unlesss, in such an event, he selects to plough his lone furrow.
The bigger and more significant story is unfolding for him in Gujarat as it is directly related to his national ambitions. The fact that he is challenging Mr Modi in his home state and that too after tasting his first victory outside Delhi, in Punjab, perhaps, in Mr Kejriwal’s scheme of things this challenge will raise his stature, irrespective of the outcome, and a possible line-up for the Lok Sabha elections. This is notwithstanding the fact that AAP government in Punjab is facing serious challenges on governance and law and order fronts with chief minister, Mr Bhagwant Mann in actual terms spending more time in Gujarat than in Chandigarh though nothing unconstitutional or illegal about it.
The catch in Gujarat is the mysterious low-profile maintained by Congress for reasons better known to the party leadership. Is this strategic or a tame surrender and how will this impact or cut into BJP or AAP votes at all?
Despite this key question Mr Kejriwal through a high-profile campaign has made his intentions clear and even expressed optimism in clear terms about an AAP victory. This is much easier said than done.
A victory will certainly put him on a new high and place him on an elevated pedestal to challenge Mr Modi in 2024 general elections. But over it hangs a huge question mark. Dethroning Congress to become the main opposition in the assembly in Mr Modi’s own state, will still provide Mr Kejriwal with a handle to pursue his national goals.
With AAP ruling itself out of Himachal Pradesh where it fathomed its chances initially, what will the defeats in Gujarat and MCD elections entail for Mr Kejriwal and future of his party?
There is no doubt that after victories in Gujarat and MCD-Delhi, Mr Kejriwal will become unstoppable. Though hypothetical at this stage, such a situation will not only compel the BJP think-tank to think afresh about their strategy but will also force the opposition camp, which Mr Kejriwal has shunned so far, to rearrange their plans to face Mr Modi’s might.
Yes, the Modi-Shah duo has much higher stakes in Gujarat, being their home state and political laboratory, and so, important to perpetuate the BJP’s rule. That is why they have gone all out and left nothing to chance. But it seems that Mr Kejriwal has attached more importance to Gujarat elections than even Modi-Shah duo. Through this strategy he has raised the bar for himself but it is fraught with serious repercussions in the event of a failure.
But Mr Kejriwal has his share of worries as well. In the two recent electoral outings, after Punjab elections, in Haryana, despite being his home state, that came in the form of high-profile Adampur assembly bi-election and Panchayat polls, the AAP had to bite the dust. These defeats came despite Haryana being located just on the outskirts of Delhi, the AAP’s power center on one side, and the party ruled Punjab on the other end.
In the Panchayat elections Congress backed and other independents topped the table with AAP being at the tail end. Similarly, AAP came a poor third.
Even so, AAP has been able to project itself as an alternative to the ruling dispensation. It’s slogan for a change worked in Punjab and it has definitely caught people’s imagination in Gujarat and so is the case in Delhi.
What if Mr Kejriwal ends up losing both Gujarat and Delhi? Such a scenario is not improbable. This will only have catastrophic effect for his future political plans.