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30 December 2015

Arvind 'Tughlaq' Kejriwal

His strategy of playing the underdog and targeting high-profile rivals was sticking with the people until he turned out to be a serial liar

This man has gone mad. While “mad” is not a standard term in the lexicon of political commentators, I couldn’t find a more apt description for Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal based on his behaviour over the past month or two. First, the rabble-rouser who cleverly avoided even mild criticism of Narendra Modi at the formative stage of the Aam Aadmi Party, fearing it would alienate the masses, called the Prime Minister a “coward” and “psychopath”. Thereafter, the self-styled crusader against corruption trained his guns at Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, following a CBI raid on the office of Rajendra Kumar, the Chief Minister’s principal secretary facing a hell lot of charges of corruption. Recall that a previous attack on Jaitley, where the AAP had accused him of horse trading, did not stick.
Then, Kejriwal does not have the humility to accept his mistake when it turns out that the file on DDCA probe that he had alleged was taken away by the investigating agency had not a word against Jaitley. And the Chief Minister quips a raid on his own premises can at best extract four unaccounted for mufflers. If it was a joke, who is laughing?
Whereas the act of hurling accusations at his political rivals is Kejriwal’s strategy, the fact that he is going wild in the act is a result of his frustration. Remember that this man has made his career by always aiming at big targets — rather, the biggest. Nobody was finding the BJP credible in 2011; so he targeted the Congress and then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, till then believed to be invincible. Without naming the newspaper for which I worked during the second term of Dikshit, I can tell Swarajya readers that even the BJP MP who edited that paper did not allow a word against the then Delhi CM, so much was her clout. Kejriwal targeted the lady nobody dared touch and turned into an instant celebrity activist, (in)famously waving a stack of papers at a rally organised by Baba Ramdev to tell the audience he had 370-page long evidence against Dikshit. When he got a chance to fix her, however, all he could come up with was an FIR on the contract for street lamps worth Rs 90 odd crore in the alleged scam of Commonwealth Games where a whopping Rs 70,000 crore was misappropriated. Kejriwal’s cherry-picking was surprising considering that a much-maligned Suresh Kalmadi had access to only Rs 14,000 crore of the whole amount and the rest was under the control of the then Delhi government and the Union Urban Development Ministry under Jaipal Reddy [source: Boria Majumdar’s Sellotape Legacy].
The other thing Kejriwal did to impress upon the voters that only his challenge to Dikshit was credible was use Vijay Goel’s name, much as the BJP had not declared Goel as its CM nominee, to ask the voters whether Goel or he would be their choice. And, of course, Kejriwal declared Dikshit as “corrupt” and facilitator or rapes; no proof required!
A poster of the AAP during its 2013 campaign
Then, Kejriwal itched for debates — stage by stage. As the wannabe CM, he challenged the sitting CM. After he could snatch away her seat in December 2013, he wanted a debate with the PM in 2014. However, that year as well as in this one that is going to end, he ignored the challenge of debate thrown at him by all rebels, dissenters and defectors—beginning with Ashwini Upadhyay and ending in Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. The strategy is clear: Always target someone higher than you; do not bother to respond to those below your rank.
Now I take the readers back to my experience as a media insider. If Dikshit was one character you could not question pre-2013, Jaitley was another. Either out of awe or for fear of reprisal, editors I have known feel a shiver running down their spines when it comes to accepting an anti-Jaitley report from a reporter. One can get away with murder when it comes to uttering any nonsense about the No.1 in the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who is paradoxically said to be running a one-man show. But you can’t question No. 2! Name a newspaper, television channel or views portal that has done that. You can’t. They at best say the Finance Minister’s reform measures are snail-paced; none dares question his integrity.
In politics, the underdog enjoys public sympathy and it gives vicarious pleasure to the people to see a big man fall. A born politician, Kejriwal knows that well. His choice of Jaitley as the next target is, therefore, clever strategy. Cursing Modi, whom every opposition leader takes the liberty to abuse, was neither innovative nor a crowd-pulling proposition.
I now come to Kejriwal’s frustration. First, despite all the hype over the AAP as a pan-India alternative to both the BJP and Congress in its first two years, he soon realised its severe limitations. His cheerleaders made him believe in early 2014 that he stood a fighting chance in the Lok Sabha elections, as no psephologist was predicting 282 seats for the BJP and anything around 160-180 for the saffron party would have meant any party with even 50 seats had a chance of making its supreme leader emerge as the prime ministerial candidate of the so-called Third Front. So, Kejriwal went around telling people the AAP was winning 100 seats. We all know he fell flat on his face.
Second, while looking like the Congress made it garner almost all the Congress votes in Delhi, the people of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, etc are too smart to consider his socialism a substitute for Samajwadi Party’s, JD(U)’s or Trinamool Congress’s socialism. With the Akali Dal’s reputation sullied by the allegation of drug peddling against Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s brother Bikram Singh Majithia, the AAP stood some chance in Punjab. But there too, half his strength of four MPs got reduced when Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa were suspended for their “anti-party activities”. Now the Congress has almost settled the dispute between Captain Amarinder Singh and Partap Singh Bajwa and is looking to regain the state. So, for the AAP, Punjab looks like a lost case.
Third, bureaucrats’ posting rarely becomes a political issue. Kejriwal did try to make it one by constantly complaining that the Centre was not sanctioning officers of his choice and accusing L-G Najeeb Jung of playing to the tune of the Union government. The issue subsided further when reports revealed that the officers who had been deputed all the way from Goa and Pondicherry were cooling their heels in Delhi without the chief minister assigning them any work. The babus also complained that the AAP government had been harassing them. People got the idea that Kejriwal was merely fishing for trouble; he actually had no inclination for performance.
Fourth, if Kejriwal’s brand of anti-corruption crusader has run its course, his brand revision as an environmentalist is also failing to take off. The firman that cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and the even numbered ones would be permitted on even dates makes him nothing short of mediaeval era’s Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi has added to the woes by declaring illegal Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai’s proposal that his party’s volunteers would pitch in as traffic regulators. Dikshit has resurfaced on the scene by questioning how the police can man six-to-eight lanes on busy roads. Media has reported that fake registration plate makers will make a killing in the days for which the Tughlaquesque edict will be in force. This means that the leader once hailed as a crusader against corruption is now pushing his city towards corruption.
Fifth, no sooner did the AAP claim that Jaitley was complicit in the DDCA scam, one report after another, including the SFIO report that the party’s press conference relied heavily upon and the High Court’s observation, informed us that the head of Delhi’s cricket management body for 13 years had no hand in its irregularities. To begin with, DDCA, which is a registered company and not a government agency, falls under the jurisdiction of the Registrar of Companies and the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs and not the Delhi government. The city government cannot even institute a probe into the cricket body's functioning as per the Commission of Inquiries Act.
Finally, unlike the scenario in the AAP’s press briefings during its first two years, the latest press conference was greeted by counter-questions from the reporters. For one, they did not believe Jaitley, for all other questions about his way of functioning, had ever been in the game of amassing ill-gotten wealth. It was Kejriwal, his party men and votaries’ challenged intellect that couldn’t appreciate the higher levels of Maslow’s Pyramid.
So, what did the dumb do? They cursed the media for not getting them right. And then no less than Kejriwal himself questioned Times Now chief editor Arnab Goswami’s salary!
Unlike the Delhi MLAs whose salaries have been hiked by 400 per cent, does Goswami draw his salary from taxpayers’ money? No. Does he not pay the taxes due on whatever he earns? Then what is the Delhi Chief Minister’s case against him?
With his movement restricted to the capital city-state and no accusation against rivals impressing the experts, Arvind Kejriwal is today a embittered politician. Now if the BJP or the Congress begins picking up issues against the AAP that I have written about in the period December 2013 – December 2014, imagine how he will react.
– Anybody landing from a foreign country ending up with an AAP ticket to fight Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections, provided he/she is a Ford Foundation beneficiary;
– Allegation of manipulation of internal elections in the party to ensure the positions of its decision makers are not challenged, …
Do not be surprised if the mad man’s Twitter handle then starts posting expletives.

An edited version of this article was published yesterday on Swarajya.

02 November 2015

NDA Forming Govt, BJP May Get Majority On Its Own

If this does not happen, there would still be no UPA government! Read on to know why and how.


T
he headline tells the entire story. But the Bharatiya Janata Party had reasons to be concerned from the first two rounds of Bihar Assembly elections, while it is upbeat about the third, which it is expecting to sweep, when I landed in Patna and went all over the place in the state. The third and fourth rounds are going to be good for the BJP, as it is the weakest stretch for the so-called Mahagathbandhan, while the outcome of the last round is believed to be determined by Muslims. Our readers know what that means. This was the state of affairs when I landed in Bihar for the second time after assessing the electoral situation two months ago for Swarajya. And this is my introduction to the piece because all parties in the fray agree to this theory off the record, and so do local journalists who have a much better idea of what is happening on their turf than the staffers of Delhi-NCR based media houses.

According to the internal assessment of the BJP, it is winning about 20-21 of the 49 seats that went to polls in the first round. Out of the 32 that were up for grabs in the second round, the BJP is expecting 16-20. While this means the party is getting near 50% of the seats, analysts in the organisation are looking at it as a damp squib. That’s because no strong anti-incumbency factor was felt despite a high pitch “jungle raj” campaign against Lalu Prasad Yadav’s alliance with Nitish Kumar, which was supposed to project the Bihar chief minister in poor light.

There are four factors that are being seen for this ‘lacklustre’ performance. One, party chief Amit Shah, who handled the propaganda in the first two rounds, plastered all campaign material with his face along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s. Shah is being seen as a rank outsider in the state. Off the record again, party workers concede Shah’s face is camera-unfriendly. That only adds to the “baahri” (outsider) accusation Nitish Kumar has charged the BJP with.

Besides, some state unit leaders of the BJP are so put off by Shah’s highhandedness that they wish their party loses this election — a prospect that would lead to a demand of removing him from the post of party president.


The PM's photo can be used anywhere in India, but why would Biharis be attracted to Amit Shah?
Second, Upendra Kushwaha had the advantage of being recently humiliated by the JD(U) government of Bihar during the Lok Sabha elections, which fetched him sympathy votes from members of his caste (Koeri) that went to the NDA kitty. The anger at being ‘ill-treated’ by a Kurmi Nitish Kumar has subsided ever since among the Koeris; as such, the Koeris and Kurmis have voted together for a party/alliance en bloc traditionally. Kushwaha squandered away the caste factor further by distributing tickets mostly among non-Koeris for this Assembly election. He believed he alone could pull the whole clan along; the BJP believes — going by the queue of voters in front of different party stalls near polling stations where his RLSP contested — he was mistaken.

Third, it is ironical that analysts are still talking in terms of caste arithmetic in one of the most economically backward states of the country. This is not Modi’s style of campaign, but somewhere this time he gave in to casteist demands, if not so much in speech, then certainly in ticket distribution. But then, politics is not a game of idealism. When the UPA riding on a Yadav and a Kurmi stalwart played to their respective caste galleries with impunity, the NDA couldn’t have played for the ‘fair play’ trophy. This is a repeat of the Lok Sabha election story where the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was forced to invoke his backward status after Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “chai wala” jibe.

The going got tougher for the BJP when RSS Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat, without provocation, said that the Sangh wanted a review of caste-based reservations. Yet another foot in the mouth was of Gen VK Singh who spoke of a Dalit and a dog in the same breath. While their bona fides may be in place, a better sense of timing and choice of words were expected of them.

Local journalists as well as swayamsevaks of the RSS who work for the BJP believe that Bhagwat and Singh’s statements may have cost the NDA up to 12 or 14 seats that went to polls in the first phase and about 5 in the second.


A section of the BJP office in Patna
The refrain that the RSS is a “socio-cultural” organisation does not wash, as it interferes regularly in matters of governance, thus placing itself undoubtedly in the political arena. So what if its focus is social work? Parties do social work as well. So what if the Sangh is not a party? No standard dictionary says an outfit has to be a party in the electoral fray to be political. Now, if the RSS is political, it better show some political sense and maturity.

That the good retired general is not a dyed-in-the-wool politician does not impress either. After a few years in activism and now more than 18 months as a minister in the Union government, he cannot afford to be loose in expression.

In the meantime, Bhumihars’ historical love for the Congress got rekindled for altogether localised reasons. That may not give the INC any seat, but it certainly dented the BJP’s vote share.

Fourth, there were groups outside the party system that had campaigned aggressively for Narendra Modi in 2014, which turned disgruntled when the BJP showed no interest to entertain them after coming to power. Prashant Kishor, whose group Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) had campaigned for Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha elections, is one such name. He switched camps after Shah and Arun Jaitley refused to patronise him. Then, KC Tyagi of the JD(U) managed the media brilliantly in New Delhi. This two-pronged approach helped Nitish attain a stature in Bihar somewhat close to Modi’s in 2014, political observers say. In fact, the language of sloganeering adopted by the JD(U) has stark similarities with that of the BJP last year. Consider the following hoarding.


Compare the rhymes: 'Ab ki baar/ Modi sarkar' with 'Bahut hua jumlon ka waar/ Phir ek baar Nitish Kumar'
Hope in Modi floats still
Modi’s fans in the party and outside, however, are hopeful that all such calculations would turn meaningless in the face of their poster boy’s sheer appeal. “We will win because of the sheer chemistry that Modi enjoys with voters; all this caste arithmetic is outdated; it no longer works that way,” says journalist-turned-BJP spokesman Sudesh Verma. He does not deny that the RJD and JD(U) enjoy some voter loyalty, but he insists that would translate to bigger vote share in their respective bastions and not a bigger tally across Bihar.

The optimistic and pessimistic sections in the BJP are both relying a lot on the 50 seats that went to polls on 28 October. They see all non-Yadav OBCs voting against the Mahagathbandhan with a vengeance. This may not reflect in the analyses by NCR-based television channels because their reporters were witness to assertive Yadavs while other OBCs and MBCs sounded tentative. The trend will continue in the fourth phase.

To understand this, one has to understand the caste conundrum of Bihar. Non-Yadav backward classes tend to be subdued in expression. That does not mean, however, that they remain suppressed while exercising their franchise.

No idea what ‘development’ means
This is more or less how Bihar looks,
whichever small town you enter
All the supporters of Nitish Kumar as well as his muted admirers in the BJP that I talked to have no idea of what Bihar desperately needs: jobs. Numbering in thousands and lakhs! As and when I asked a Nitish fan what development the Bihar chief minister had brought in, he/she would point at a stretch of land and say there used to be no road on that stretch while now there is a road! Never mind that the pothole-ridden road is crying for maintenance. Not one soul in my entire tour had this idea that an atmosphere conducive to investment was needed in the state, which included reduction in the rate of crime as much as the ease of doing business.

And this is a failure of the BJP. When a mass of people is alien to an idea that is an essential part of your ideology, it’s your job to introduce and hard-sell that idea in their midst. No campaigner in the party, not even Prime Minister Modi, stressed on private sector investment.

The cloud has a silver lining
While the caste equations above were shared by all parties contesting in this election, no voter that I spoke to seemed interested in castes alone. In the entire demographic range, they were only Muslims who said they were not going to vote for the BJP-led NDA. There was no unanimous choice among the Hindu electorate, and each one of them said they wanted vikas (development), with about 70% believing a Modi-dictated state government was the right choice and the remaining 30% reposing faith in Nitish Kumar — with the caveat that he should not have made Lalu Yadav’s RJD his partner.


Mohammed Noor Alam (left) will vote for
Lalu-backed Nitish while Chunnu Prasad
will vote for Modi's BJP, these shopkeepers
in Motihari said. They also said they were
friends despite their political differences.
Of course, fans never care for hardnosed poll mathematics. When they told me Nitish Kumar could have thrown a formidable challenge at Narendra Modi if he had not allied with a ‘corrupt’ Lalu Prasad, they did not factor in the JD(U)’s electoral history. Throughout its existence since its formative years as the Samata Party, it used to throw tantrums during the ticket distribution process in the NDA, grab more seats to contest, but convert a less-than-impressive percentage of them into victories.

During those 17 years of BJP-JD(U) alliance, an accommodating, malleable, junior partner BJP always won a greater percentage of seats that it got to contest in. Not only that, the upper castes transferred their loyalty to Nitish when the JD(U) was an ally of the BJP; now he is getting the M-Y combo of Lalu. So, a Nitish with neither a Modi nor a Lalu could have been as good as a big nought.

Demographic divide
Women, first-time voters, OBCs and EBCs have rallied behind Narendra Modi so far while SCs, hurt by Bhagwat and Gen Singh’s statements, went to the Mahagathbandhan. It was near impossible for the BJP-led NDA to come up with a face saver to alleviate the Dalit pain in time before 12 October when Bihar began the process of electing a new government. The OBCs, who look up to the prime minister as a tall leader from their grouping, and EBCs, who stand rock solid behind Jitan Ram Manjhi, salvaged the NDA’s position somewhat from a fiasco that a couple of motormouths pushed the alliance towards.

Lallan Sahni, a fruitseller, will vote for the BJP
Muslims are voting not only predictably but also intelligently. A new scene that has surfaced on the poll arena is a near absence of religious attire among the Muslim electorate. No burqa and no skull cap in the queue! The BJP believes this cannot be a coincidence. The communal get-up has been avoided deliberately after community meetings so that the sight does not polarise Hindus towards the NDA.

The people I interviewed also said that the NCP and MIM stood little chance in this battle. Muslims would simply not let their votes get divided this time.

The tables have turned
The BJP has read the demographic situation pretty well. Hence, one sees the about turn on reservations. Before the first two rounds, the party was at pains to explain to the Dalits and OBCs that their quotas would be left untouched. Now it is the UPA’s turn to be defensive as Modi wants the voters to believe that the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine is hatching some ‘conspiracy’ to snatch away a chunk of reserved seats from the Hindu downtrodden classes and gift that percentage to Muslims.

It’s all calculated. The belief that poll results in Seemanchal, going to the booth in the fifth and last phase, are determined by Muslims is deep-rooted. There is only one way the BJP can pull it off: Turn SCs and OBCs paranoid of Muslims, let non-Muslim votes consolidate and create a Hindu backlash. Again, the name of this game is politics. Do not expect saintly detachment from the party that rules at the Centre.
But Shah overdid it by bringing Pakistan into the discourse. “Galti se bhi agar BJP Bihar mein haar gayi, ...” (if the BJP loses by mistake) was an avoidable phraseology. A party must never talk of the prospect of losing before the election is over. It gives an impression that it is bracing for defeat based on inputs from its workers. In reality, the karyakartas are saying the party is winning for sure.

Finally, the table below has the score I got from the electorate — in consultation with local journalists, television channels based in Bihar and my sources in the Intelligence Bureau. The Delhi elections had proved that the feedback from swayamsevaks may be misleading because they go by the number of supporters of the BJP who exercised their franchise on the polling day rather than all the voters on the electoral roll. One may recall that the BJP had got just 3 out of 70 seats from the 2015 Delhi results though its vote share was more or less intact in the 32-33% range — thus establishing my theory. So this time, I hear out some electoral theories from them, but do not ask them their estimated score.


Round
Regions/districts
Number of Vidhan Sabha seats
Expected tally of the BJP-led NDA
1
Banka
6
2

Begu Sarai
7
2

Bhagalpur
6
3

Jamui
6
3

Khagaria
6
3

Munger
6
0 or 1

Nawada
6
4

Samastipur
6
3





Sub total
49
20-21




2
Arwal
2
1 or 2

Aurangabad
6
3 or 4

Gaya
10
5

Jehanabad
3
2

Kaimur
4
1 or 2

Rohtas
7
4 or 5





Sub total
32
16-20




3
Buxar
4
2 or 3

Bhojpur
7
4

Nalanda
7
4 or 5

Patna
14
8 or 9

Saran
10
7 or 8

Vaishali
8
5 or 6





Sub total
50
30-35




4
Gopalganj
6
6

Champaran (East)
12
7 or 8

Champaran (West)
9
5 or 6

Muzaffarpur
11
8

Sheohar
1
1

Sitamarhi
8
4 or 5

Siwan
8
6





Sub total
55
37-40





TOTAL
186
103-116

Significant in this finding are two regions: Gopalganj is where Lalu Yadav hails from, but his candidates are losing here. And Nitish Kumar’s nominees are set to lose the battle in his bastion to good fighters put up by the NDA.

The alliance can, therefore, comfortably reach the halfway mark in the 243-member Bihar Assembly. Including the last phase, I have arrived at a figure of 140 for the NDA out of which 124 will be of the BJP alone. All analysts I met with in Bihar agree more or less on this figure even as the BJP is publicly giving an exaggerated account of its expectations for the NDA (160) to boost its voters’ morale.

In the fifth phase, other than trying to engineer a Hindu backlash, the BJP is expecting Mithilanchal and Kosi regions to compensate for the Muslim vote consolidation in favour of the UPA in Seemanchal. I wish to file a report at the end of the last day of polling to add to this assessment. Even without witnessing the fourth phase, my extensive travel in the region concerned gives me confidence about my prediction. The bases of my estimate of the first three phases have already been described above.

Yet with all humility I must add I am too human to be able to see the future. But in the event that this prediction does not come true, I still see almost no chance of a UPA government taking shape in Bihar. The JD(U)’s poor record of converting contested seats into seats won is expected to continue. This would make a strange government that is headed by Nitish but where Lalu’s party is the senior partner. Given the Yadav patriarch’s domineering attitude and his party’s criminal infestation, such a government would be impossible to run.

On the other hand, for all the revulsion Nitish exhibits for Narendra Modi, nobody knows it better than him how comfortable a coalition he had had with the BJP for 17 years. Since Modi and Kumar are no longer rivals on the national scene, in a scenario where the BJP is the single largest party followed by the RJD and then the JD(U) — nobody is betting a dime on the Congress — the possibility of the present ruling party of Bihar rejoining the NDA post-poll cannot be ruled out. This is not my theory; both BJP and JD(U) leaders are mulling over the possibility.

Modi’s newfound love for the United States after a decade of visa ban on him shows he is a politician who can bury the hatchet. If Nitish does not want to officiate over a topsy-turvy government, he will have to be as flexible. Of course, this is too much of a hypothesis at the moment.

With my limited psephological ability, I reckon a ‘normal’ NDA government in Bihar — which is to say that the pre-poll alliance will be good enough for Narendra Modi’s post-poll nominee to approach the governor to stake a claim for government formation.

This is my original report filed on 31 October 2015; the first two paragraphs were deleted from the version that was published in Swarajya.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.