The top BJP leadership appears to have shed its recalcitrance when it comes to taking on Arvind Kejriwal directly, a strategy meant to impress that the convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party was not substantial enough to warrant attention.
Come AAP’s Punjab victory, which makes it the only party in the country besides the BJP and Congress to have a government in two states, there seems to be a rethink.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “revdi culture (freebie)” attack on the Opposition, in a place like Bundelkhand where AAP has no stakes, was the latest example of this. If Modi’s barbs seemed directed at Kejriwal and AAP’s free power-free water-subsidised travel model of governance, the Delhi Chief Minister typically didn’t let the opportunity slide. Was providing the poor good education and health revdi, a combative Kejriwal asked.
It’s this nimbleness displayed by AAP that has the BJP on alert. As, after Delhi and Punjab, AAP eyes Haryana, makes a determined push in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, enters even more distant states like Karnataka, Assam and Madhya Pradesh via civic polls, and increases its Parliament heft with 10 MPs (none in the Lok Sabha), the BJP has come to see it as the party expanding its national footprint at a faster pace than any other. That AAP is copying its rule book in targeting the Congress space hasn’t escaped the BJP either.
The top BJP leadership’s stand on AAP has seen many ups and downs. At a time when only AAP stood between the BJP and capture of Delhi, prime ministerial contender Narendra Modi said at a rally in Jammu ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls that Pakistan sourced its strength from three AKs – “One is AK-47, the second is A K Antony (then defence minister). The third AK is AK-49, who has just given birth to a new party.” The reference presumably was to Kejriwal’s first stint of 49 days as Delhi CM.
Then, in another such direct attack but without naming Kejriwal, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Modi said Delhi had seen “nakaampanthi (failed)” model of governance (under AAP).
The Bundelkhand address was the third in this vein – after a further gap of three years, a period in which AAP has consolidated Delhi gains and covered new ground.
If Modi is the ultimate and hence sparingly deployed weapon in the BJP’s arsenal, the party’s Central leaders are now in the forefront taking on AAP – taking up the job from its state unit which is seen as largely ineffectual in putting up a challenge to the party.
“You saw Union minister Smriti Irani taking on AAP thrice in recent times. Once for depriving the MCD of its share of Rs 13,000 crore, then on the Delhi government liquor policy, and later on the issue of Satyendra Jain,” a BJP leader said. Jain has been under arrest for more than a month-and-a-half on money-laundering charges.
Union ministers Anurag Thakur and Hardeep Puri too have been vocal against AAP.
The Centre’s last-minute decision to postpone the MCD polls citing need for merging the corporations in Delhi was also seen by AAP as a measure solely to clip its wings.
“The unification decision was announced after the Punjab results. The BJP knew we were winning the MCD polls, and this would have given us the momentum before the Gujarat and Haryana elections. So, they delayed the polls. If the idea was reform, that could have been done by merging the MCD but not delaying polls by going in for delimitation,” says former Leader of Opposition in the civic body and AAP leader Vikas Goel.
BJP sources said that at a recent meeting of MPs and some senior leaders, data was shared from the Power Ministry on the subsidy status of Delhi, to help counter AAP. Soon, some BJP leaders including MPs Gautam Gambhir and MP Ramesh Bidhuri, and MLA Ramvir had opened this front armed with figures.
On Sunday, Gambhir said claims of subsidy by the Delhi government were an eyewash as the money came from taxes paid by the people. “In the past eight years, people of Delhi have just been at the receiving end of propaganda and hogwash,” the BJP leader and former cricketer said.
Another senior BJP leader points to newly appointed Lieutenant Governor, Vijai Kumar Saxena, starting off with shots at the AAP government, many of them targeted close to home. Among those suspended on alleged corruption charges in recent days has been a deputy secretary in Kejriwal’s office and two sub-divisional magistrates. Action has been sought against a senior Revenue official over forest land “malpractices”, and Saxena has granted sanction for a CBI probe against AAP Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan and former Delhi Waqf Board CEO Mehboob Aalam, for alleged corruption in appointments.