Tuesday, December 31, 2013



In Cong’s Modi fight, can AAP come to rescue?

MJ Akbar
29 December 2013, 03:03 AM IST

Has Arvind Kejriwal become the last hope of Congress in its bitter struggle against Narendra Modi? Many Congress leaders no longer believe they can win in 2014, but hope that Modi can still be stopped from becoming prime minister. The sacrifice of a parish like Delhi is small change in the larger game.

In theory, this strategy has its merits. Modi and Kejriwal have one asset in common. They are outsiders who promise to cleanse the gutters of Delhi corruption. If Modi, with an energized BJP cadre in support, remains the only claimant to honesty’s mantle, Congress could face electoral upheaval. But if the mantle can be shared, voter focus will be split.

The problems are apparent, once you clear the gold dust of media coverage. Delhi has seven MPs; Parliament has a hundred times that and more. Television often gives more attention to seven seats than 700, but offering free water to the capital’s middle class from some magic jug is not quite the same as finding a solution to river disputes between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Delhi was the only state to produce a confused result, but the rough-and-ready opinion poll that Kejriwal conducted after the Assembly results to check the city’s mood confirmed an important fact: voters go to the polling booth to elect an alternative government, not only to give vent to anger. Kejriwal would have preferred another, quick, election, to maximize the positive surge in his direction. Citizens told him to get on with it, and deliver on promises instead of stretching an alibi. There is a consistent message from ground level. Voters want a stable government. Kejriwal cannot offer that at a national level. Nor can he promise a coalition, since he considers every other party corrupt. His only rationale for entering Parliament will be that of a security guard service. Good, but possibly not good enough.

But there isn’t a gambler in a casino, or in a general election lottery, who will accept defeat before a last throw of dice.

Before 2009, the pursuit of Modi was a catchment run for votes. In 2014, the confrontation has edged closer to existential. The camouflage, if there was ever any, has been ripped off. Modi’s slogan is unambiguous, an India rid of Congress. He asked Mumbai, from where Mahatma Gandhi told the British in 1942 to quit India, to launch a “Quit Congress” movement.

At least some Congress seniors do not dismiss this as seasonal bluster. They feel that Modi could turn victory in 2014 to re-election in 2019, even as he coils Congress in corruption cases. Would a family-run Congress possess the commitment and resilience to survive such a difficult decade ahead? The party has already disappeared from huge swathes in the country, without any help from Modi. Time, and dejection, might do the rest. They are confident, however, that Congress can negotiate its way through the swamp if the next administration is led by anyone else. Only Modi would squeeze it out of political space.

Congress has never pursued any politician with the ferocity it displays against Modi. This is not merely desire for retribution; it is also evidence of worry. The past few days have been particularly depressing to Congress, as accusations have peeled away despite long and intense scrutiny. CBI, which reports to the Centre, could not find “prosecutable evidence” against Modi in the Ishrat Jahan death.

A magistrate’s court has ruled that Modi cannot be charged with collusion in the 2002 Gujarat riots. A final attempt is being made through the “snoopgate” allegations. But after setbacks in tougher cases, there isn’t too much credibility left in UPA’s storehouse, let alone time. In public life, an accusation often comes roaring like a lion, and retreats bleating like a lamb. But voters have sharp ears.

By February we will know whether Kejriwal has been able to use Congress, or vice versa. It might suit both if Kejriwal loses Congress support because he has filed corruption cases. Kejriwal would be rid of government, and Congress would be rid of Kejriwal. A wounded Kejriwal could then be unleashed on the general election. In the meantime, all Modi has to do is wait, and keep quiet. If BJP had won Delhi, he would have no answers on electricity rates, water or crime. Delhi’s water comes from Congress-ruled Haryana; electricity from corporations, who are even less generous; and the police is run by the Centre. Some battles are better lost.

The best New Year greeting has come to me from a friend. It consists of two lines from T S Eliot’s Four Quartets: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, And next year’s words await another voice.” We shall see which voice prevails.

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