Opinion: Kejriwal Out On Bail: How Effective Will His Intense Campaigning Be?

Arvind Kejriwal's arrest generated a certain amount of sympathy for him and AAP, which is benefiting the INDIA bloc candidates in Delhi.

May 12, 2024 - 10:15
Opinion: Kejriwal Out On Bail: How Effective Will His Intense Campaigning Be?
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A poster announcing ‘Tiger Is Back' greeted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal when he came out of jail on Friday evening. Now, the question is, will the tiger devour his prey? Kejriwal's release from prison is an unusual event that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Narendra Modi-led government had not expected. The BJP looks shaken and disturbed, and it believes that his release will negatively impact the party. The statement given by BJP leader and former Rajya Sabha member, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, says it all: “By picking a side right in the middle of elections, the lordships have made themselves a part of the campaign. When the billion ballots speak, they may not like it.”

An Interesting Order

It is undoubtedly a historic decision. The order is curious in many ways. Kejriwal and his legal team had not asked for bail, rather they had challenged the legality of his arrest. Curiously, the court has not pronounced a verdict on the merit of the case, nor has it given permanent bail. The matter is still pending in the court for the final judgment. However, the court has granted interim bail to Kejriwal, citing the democratic imperative of ongoing elections, which occur once every five years. Given Kejriwal's position as Chief Minister and the leader of a national party, coupled with his record devoid of any criminal antecedents, his participation in the elections was deemed necessary. And if he is released for 21 days, it will not make any difference to the case.

It can be argued that the court's verdict itself is exceptional and it is an attempt to send a message on the issue of misuse of agencies by the government to hound opposition leaders. In this case, the democracy argument is significant as the court verdict underlines the fact that democracy can't be undermined in the name of criminal procedure and that opposition leaders can't be arrested on the eve of elections in the name of investigation. The court has not said so in as many words, but the message is simple - that Kejriwal was arrested to influence the elections and the court can't be a mute spectator. The BJP's apprehension has merit that the return of Kejriwal will have an adverse impact on the party.

Kejriwal The 'Underdog'

Kejriwal is not a brilliant speaker. But his communication skills are next only to Prime Minister Modi. Even before his arrest, his party projected him as a courageous leader who was not scared to face the wrath of the Prime Minister, a leader who would be victimised for speaking the truth and not surrendering to the might of the BJP.

As is known, everybody loves an underdog, a challenger. Modi is the most powerful Prime Minister since the days of Indira Gandhi. He is accused of undermining democracy and using tools to crush the opposition. The AAP's attempt has been to position itself as a party and Kejriwal as a leader fighting to save democracy. It is not a coincidence that just after his release, while addressing supporters, he said that he was fighting a dictatorship with all his might, and 140 crore people should also join him in this fight. After his arrest to invoke sympathy for the party, the AAP had launched a slogan and a campaign - Jail ka jawab, vote se.

Read | Arvind Kejriwal's "One Nation, One Leader" Jibe Day After Release From Jail

The sudden appearance of his wife, Sunita Kejriwal, as the messenger of Arvind Kejriwal, was another ploy to garner sympathy for the party. Sunita Kejriwal, a retired IRS officer, was not active in politics. She always stayed behind the scenes and away from public life. But Kejriwal's arrest transformed her completely. She not only conveyed her husband's message from jail but was also addressing election rallies and doing road shows. She was made the star campaigner of the party.

This entire exercise was to present Arvind Kejriwal as a martyr before voters and in this game of chess, she was promoted as an embodiment of Shakti, like a true Indian wife, whose husband had been wronged by the powers that be and she was there to fight - a woman would not rest till her husband got justice. The whole exercise was to turn the crisis into an opportunity, to present Kejriwal as an honest man, a crusader; to create a moral halo around him.

Mending The Image

Let's not forget that the phenomenon called Kejriwal was born as a rebel, a crusader who joined politics to change politics, cleanse it of corruption and bring back the moral equilibrium of society. No doubt, the kind of practices Kejriwal and his party have been indulging in has dented his image as an honest politician. The liquor scam and sheesh mahal exposé have damaged his reputation.

The arrest of his senior colleagues like Manish Sisodia, who has not got bail for more than a year, has further tarnished his reputation. Kejriwal knew that sooner or later, he would also be jailed. To resurrect his image, it was important to brazen it out and portray himself as a victim of the authoritarian regime, and in that, he seems to have succeeded. His arrest generated a certain amount of sympathy for him and for his party, which is benefiting the INDIA bloc candidates in Delhi. Now, since he is out in public, he will openly play the victim card by presenting himself as a moral crusader, a living martyr. He is a master communicator, and he will milk every opportunity to make the most of it.

BJP Apprehensive

In Delhi, the BJP has been winning all seven seats since the 2014 general elections. The AAP failed to win even a single seat in the last two Lok Sabha elections. On both occasions, the AAP and the Congress had contested separately. This time, they are in alliance. The AAP is contesting four seats and the Congress three. The BJP in 2014 received 46.40% votes, whereas the combined vote of AAP and the Congress was 48%. In 2019, the BJP's vote share jumped to 56.9% and the AAP and the Congress combined vote share shrunk to 40.6%. But in the 2024 elections, the BJP is suffering from ten years of anti-incumbency; unemployment, price rise and corruption are huge issues and there is a definite unease amongst voters.

This time, the AAP and the Congress are fighting as one unit and nationally are part of the INDIA alliance, presenting themselves before voters, unlike in the past, as a national alternative to the Modi government. Therefore, the elections in 2024 in Delhi, unlike in 2014 and 2019, will be a tight contest. 

Read | On Arvind Kejriwal's "Amit Shah To Be PM" Claim, A Reply By Home Minister

Today, the BJP is vulnerable in Delhi and might lose a few seats. The apprehension of BJP leaders as reported by The Indian Express is understandable, that Kejriwal's release will negatively impact BJP's chances in at least three seats - Northeast Delhi, West Delhi, and Chandni Chowk. These are seats where the population in JJ colonies and slums is high, and their residents have traditionally been supporters of the AAP, and before that, of the Congress. And here, the BJP could only manage approximately 40% of votes. 

The tiger is back with a vengeance, and he may not leave any stone unturned to snatch victory. He will try to inflict fatal wounds on the BJP. It will be interesting to observe his moves in the next few days.

(Ashutosh is the author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and co-founder of SatyaHindi.com)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author. 

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