Two riveting photographs frame the distance travelled by the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. On Wednesday, chief minister elect Arvind Kejriwal met President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhawan. And on Thursday morning, Kejriwal was photographed sitting next to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his Race Course Road residence when he visited the PM for a 15-minute chai pe charcha.
Not too long ago, in March 2014, in the middle of a blistering Lok Sabha campaign, high drama had ensued at Sarghasan Chowkdi on the outskirts of Gandhinagar, where Delhi’s former CM had been stopped en route an attempted ambush and/ or rendezvous with the Gujarat chief minister who was the BJP’s candidate for PM — Kejriwal had to return without a cup of tea with Modi. Kejriwal’s meeting with Mukherjee, too, has a strikingly less cordial prehistory. Both men sat across the table in August 2011, for instance, one the finance minister of a besieged regime and the other a leading light of India Against Corruption, the avowedly non-political organisation that had forced the Manmohan Singh government to its knees. Earlier, in June, Mukherjee’s participation in a high-powered delegation of Union cabinet ministers rushed to meet and placate Baba Ramdev, one-time co-traveller of Team Anna, at the Delhi airport, had signalled the beginning of the end for the UPA.
Much has changed, since then, for all three men. And it is Kejriwal’s turn now, as the bearer of a glorious mandate, to seize the moment and script a new story that is not weighed down by past acrimony. He is no more the challenger, or the outsider, or the insurgent. Or even the chief minister with a not-quite majority. As his partymen get ready to fill up all the seats in the new Delhi assembly save three, he has been cast in a new role. When he meets Mukherjee now, or Modi, Kejriwal represents the Delhi Establishment that is mandated to run a city-state, a half-state, with a more than full majority. As he gets down to solving Delhi’s complex and special problems, he will need to coordinate with and seek support from the Centre. His previous 49-day government collapsed because of the impasse over the Jan Lokpal and Swaraj bills between the two governments in Delhi. But this time, he cannot afford to run away from the need for negotiation — be it on full statehood for Delhi, or on greater room for fulfilling promises made on law and order and housing.
The new Kejriwal appears to recognise that the new moment and new roles demand the building of new bridges. The immediate aftermath of the AAP’s heady victory has been marked by a decided reluctance by the party to project it as a negative mandate against the government Modi leads at the Centre. For Delhi’s sake, Chief Minister Kejriwal must build on this wisdom and restraint.