MOST STRATEGISTS WILL concur that politics everywhere across the globe is more about optics rather than objectivity. Very few people vote for candidates (or parties) based on their manifesto. They vote for people they like or people they can associate with. People who they believe will (and do) feel their pain and want to do something about it. They vote based on their heart and not the mind, as we would mistakenly think. In India, it is even more magnified, and perhaps, more nuanced. Which is why Narendra Modi makes it a point to wear the clothes of the region he is visiting, or for that matter, the headgear that he adorns every time he addresses the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi. More than anyone else, Modi understands the emotional chords he must tug at in order to garner empathy, and finally, the vote.
But there is one more person in Indian politics who knows this and more. Arvind Kejriwal.
He recognises the twin benefits of both playing to the gallery as also constantly aligning himself with the commonest of the common. And of late, he has begun getting traction. Look around you and he is the only person who has taken on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) comprehensively. Those who denigrate his wins as a flash-in-the-pan need to think again. He has won Delhi twice and the irony is that, in 2014, BJP made a clean sweep of the Lok Sabha elections from Delhi but lost the state in 2015.
His electoral wins are not flukes. They are the result of a carefully calibrated campaign as they are of his deep understanding of what makes the voter tick. There’s, of course, the victim card that he plays so well. India and Indians love the underdog and Kejriwal is emblematic of the underdog in Indian politics. I call it the creation of an alternative hierarchy. The same hierarchy where the richest of the rich will tell you they have no money. This victim card is akin to the one that Modi employed in 2013 when he told the country about how people had been targeting him since 2002. But then Kejriwal has played this victim card with many hues. This is why he has scored in the manner he has.
Everything that Kejriwal does or says is ostensibly for the people. But dig deeper, and its ultimately about himself. He has that one tangential quality of leadership, and that is carefully calibrated narcissism. In a country like ours, this quality works in keeping the herd together and the people in awe.
His victory in the MCD polls is not something to be scoffed at. For, those who say that BJP gifted him this victory are both wrong and in denial. Electoral wins are the lifeblood of BJP: they would fight as hard to win even a housing complex election and they know that. In minimising Kejriwal’s win, BJP is opening itself out to its most dangerous pan-India competition which is both the Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal.
Arvind Kejriwal is comparatively young and has both age as also ambition on his side, and he knows that. And other than the initial departures, his people have, by and large, stayed with him. There have been no desertions in spite of both extreme provocation and pressure. What he will continue to do is level up and compete with Modi and in doing so he will erect his own statue every time he looks in the mirror. He wants to ultimately be the Goliath to Modi’s David, and not the other way round. This will help him garner both attention and support.
I fail to understand what BJP’s strategy qua Delhi is. But they desperately need one. They need a strategy not just to counter Kejriwal’s narrative but instead look at him as an adversary with a difference. Kejriwal has been in government so he knows how to deal with pressures that may be mounted by agencies. He is not one to be easily scared.
The sooner BJP deciphers this man’s mind, the better off they will be.