Opposition leader Arvind Kejriwal is imitating the Indian prime minister's Hindu nationalist agendaby Harsh V Pant / February 28, 2020 / Leave a comment
Less than a year ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked impregnable. He had won re-election in a landslide, shifted the country decisively to the right and decimated the main opposition Congress party. His sectarian decision to change the status of Kashmir and propose a new citizenship law provoked cries of outrage, but did not appear to dent his popularity.
But February’s state elections in Delhi have dealt Modi a blow—and may have shown his opponents how he can eventually be defeated at national level. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—or Common Man Party—won 62 out of 70 seats, and its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has emerged as one of the most important political faces in India. It was Kejriwal’s third successive victory in Delhi, and his hat-trick has prompted some commentators to wonder whether he could be the politician to eventually challenge Modi’s dominance.
Kejriwal sought votes for his party in Delhi by making a case for his performance as the state’s chief minister. He highlighted his popular policies of free electricity and water, education and health reforms as well as his overall governance. His supporters talk of a “Delhi model” that can potentially become a rival to the “Gujarat model,” which successfully propelled Modi towards national glory.
Perhaps more important was what he didn’t do. It was after his victory in 2015 that Kejriwal first started dreaming of challenging Modi directly, trying to grow his new party in other states. But he failed to make an impression elsewhere, and his attacks on Modi ended up alienating a large part of the Indian populace that remains in awe of the prime minister. After getting a serious drubbing in last year’s parliamentary elections, Kejriwal and his party recognised the need to temper their hubris. And as the Delhi elections dawned, a new Kejriwal emerged.
He and his party refrained from talking about their national ambitions and toned down their direct attacks on Modi. Kejriwal…