Will Arvind Kejriwal spoil Congress, BJP`s chances in Delhi?

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Updated: Oct 24, 2013, 11:33 AM IST

When the whole world seems to be debating who among Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi will emerge as a winner in 2014, talking about someone who is a new entrant in national politics makes little sense. But it would be imprudent not to take note of the winds of change, even if it may seem akin to a flutter - the person I am referring to is Arvind Kejiwal, the former IRS officer and RTI activist, who was once a key member of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare`s team.

The man, who claims that he was pushed to wear khadi after the collapse of Anna Hazare`s Jan Lokpal Movement, has managed to project his Aaam Admi Party (AAP) as the real crusader for the causes of ordinary citizens, at a time when they have totally lost hope from others.

I can say this since I have seen a diabetic Kejriwal addressing rallies, staging sit-ins, going door-to-door, canvassing extensively convincing the local voters that the three-term old Sheila Dikhsit government has no right to continue as it has completely lost its connect with Delhiites .

And though major parties view him only as a "game spoiler", his electioneering is gathering momentum with every passing day and he has, to some extent, succeeded in presenting himself as someone who is capable of unseating Sheila Dikhsit.

That Arvind Kejriwal`s party has a presence in public perception was indicated in a recent poll survey which predicted a hung assembly in Delhi and saw AAP winning as many as 18 seats. Despite the Congress maintaining that it would be too early to predict a loss and the BJP categorically rejecting the findings of the survey, it is clear that AAP`s entry in the electoral battle has ended what would have been a bi-polar contest between the two main parties.

Delhi will now witness a three-way contest in Assembly elections, thanks to Kejriwal`s 11-month-old party, which is already making rivals jittery. The Congress and BJP leaders are dismissive of Kejriwal`s claims of an outright victory but they also admit in hushed tones that the AAP is bound to hurt them.

And the credit for this undoubtedly goes to the man of the moment, a former IITian from Kharagpur who joined the Indian Revenue Services and later turned a social activist before finally listening to his inner calling to float a political outfit to overhaul the system.

An offshoot of Anna Hazare`s anti-corruption campaign that gripped the nation two years ago, AAP was founded in November 2012 and selected `broom` as its election symbol. The recent poll survey has emboldened the AAP`s election campaign and the ripple effect of it is being felt in the Congress and the BJP camp.

One may not be willing to accept that AAP will be a major winner in the coming polls, but there is also no doubt over its potential to change poll arithmetic. Analysts feel that AAP is more likely to hurt the BJP than the Congress as Kejriwal`s anti-government stand could divide anti-Congress votes.

The Congress has ruled Delhi since 1998, and is confident of winning another five-year term. The BJP is equally confident of ending the 15-year reign of Sheila Dikshit. Though Mayawati`s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and other smaller parties have also contested elections in past and won a few seats, Delhi has always been a Congress and BJP fiefdom.

In the 2008 polls, Congress won 43 of the 70 Delhi seats with a 40.31 percent vote share, while the BJP was mauled despite cornering 36.84 percent of the total votes cast. In the last Assembly polls, the winning margin in at least 20 Delhi constituencies ranged between a few hundred votes, which is an alarming situation for two established parties as AAP is most likely to cause a dent in their vote share this time.

Till today, the voters in Delhi had no option but to choose between Congress and BJP but AAP`s emergence has now given them a new alternative. If the poll pundits are to be believed then AAP could win six to nine Assembly seats but corner as much as 17 percent of the total votes – too much for a new born political formation.

Clearly, Kejriwal`s party gains its strength from its high-pitched campaign on issues of people`s concern – high power tariff, poor water supply, lack of sewage system, illegal colonies and women`s safety.

In just a year, the AAP has gained 12,000 registered supporters - 4,000 of them students including 400 from IIT Delhi - and 150,000 "prabharis", each tasked with overseeing 20 families in his neighbourhood. The AAP office bearers claim that nearly 3,000 people from nearby cities visit their office each week to willingly campaign for the party. Though AAP too has hit a roadblock in the selection of candidates, nonetheless most of its candidates are in their 30s, unlike Congress and BJP, which has given tickets to experienced and mature hands.

Despite an anti-incumbency wave, the ruling Congress is still confident that it will find support from its traditional vote-banks like Muslims and residents of unauthorized and resettlement colonies. On the other hand, the BJP, plagued by internal dissent and lack of leadership, is heavily banking on Narendra Modi`s charisma. It cannot be under stated about how the road ahead is not easy for Kejriwal, a Magsaysay Award winner for emergent leadership, who faces criticism for turning AAP into a one-man show.

However, there is no doubt that an angry Kejriwal, poised to take on the reigning three-term chief minister in her constituency of choice, represents the frustration of the aam aadmi. At the moment, AAP is trying to cash in on Kejriwal`s clean image and popularity, but the party needs to nurture more leaders and promote them if it wants to expand its reach beyond Delhi in the long run. Kejriwal is the proverbial dark horse in politics, whether he has won people’s support will be known in a matter of few weeks.