Eight days after the Delhi poll result sunk in among the victors and losers alike, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal drove to the residence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, which he later described as a fruitful meeting between the two leaders “for working together” for the sake of development of the Capital. Shorn of any sign of triumphalism despite a stunning hat-trick, Kejriwal met up with Shah, showing his government’s readiness for a fresh engagement with the Centre. There was no official word from Shah, but the very fact that the BJP’s chief campaigner, for whom the results were a personal setback, chose to host Kejriwal at his residence, rather than at his imposing North Block office, conveyed a sort of new style of engagement.
On the same day, Kejriwal responded warmly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wishes for a “fruitful tenure” while emphasising that they needed to work together to make Delhi a city of pride for all Indians. These exchanges may seem like routine pleasantries among political rivals after every election, but they do underscore new terms of endearment in changing seasons.Both in the run-up to the elections and thereafter, Kejriwal has made it clear that he did not wish to run his second term as an opposition’s mascot against the BJP or its brand of politics. He would rather prefer to emerge as an author of an alternative governance model.
No leading lights of the opposition were present at the swearing-in of Kejriwal at Ramlila Maidan — unlike when CMs Uddhav Thackeray and Hemant Soren took oath in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, respectiely in November last year. That’s because Kejriwal did not want to antagonise the Centre further. Kejriwal knows well from his own experience of a run-in with the Centre that, if all works out well, New Delhi’s munificence will help in his government delivering beyond the guaranteed schemes.
After his own experiments in Haryana, Punjab, Goa and Gujarat getting him nowhere, Kejriwal is more politically matured and given hints that he would rather consolidate his standing by his performance
On the part of the BJP leaders too, there is a realisation that, given the issues engulfing the party affairs in Delhi, Kejriwal’s encore is not a bad proposition at all. Of course, the elections to the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCD) in 2022 will again bring the AAP and the BJP back at each other’s throats. But Modi and his team may be thankful that they would not be bogged down with Delhi affairs and be free to concentrate on their own deliverables. In the season of changes, the BJP is reading meanings in the differences growing within the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra over issues like the Elgar Parishad case and National Population Register (NPR).
These may hold out the possibilities of fresh thinking among the partners even if Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut would not want anyone to “dig further” into Uddhav Thackeray’s stances so soon. But some sections of the BJP see a greater import in these developments in the wake of Raj Thackeray adding more saffron to his outfit in a bid to challenge his cousin Uddhav — even if there is a slender chance in the three alliance partners falling apart now. In Jharkhand too, the return of former CM Babulal Marandi to the BJP after 14 years in the parent party has opened up some possibilities. Marandi was the first CM of Jharkhand when it was created in 2000. He is set to become the face of the BJP in the state assembly as the new leader of the opposition when CM Hemant Soren’s innings have not got off to a great start, with the alliance partner Congress not very happy with the state of affairs.
Of course, all political eyes are on Bihar where the assembly polls are due in nine months. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is all set to lead the NDA with a rather mellowed BJP unwilling to upset the apple cart of an alliance, which includes Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP. In the 2019 polls, the NDA won 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from the state, showing a lead in 219 of the 243 assembly seats. Nitish hopes that the BJP is very much chastised by the Delhi poll results to not overplay Hindutva issues, which are detrimental to his JDU’s support base. As for the BJP, Nitish’s act of expelling trouble-makers like election strategist Prashant Kishor was an endearing act that removed at once the thorns in the way of the smooth functioning of the alliance. As things stand today, Kishor’s ‘Baat Bihar Ki’ campaign and upcoming CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s Jan Gan Man Yatra may compete for TRPs along with RJD scion Tejashwi Yadav’s Berozagri Yatra. But Nitish looks like the winner.
The writer is a senior journalist. This column will appear every fortnight