If Arvind Kejriwal has his way, the primary challenge for the BJP would come in 2029 not from the Congress but from the AamAadmi Party. In a ruthlessly consistent and effective manner, Kejriwal has ensured the marginalisation of any individual who regarded himself or herself as his superior or mentor. Whether it be activists such as Anna Hazare or Aruna Roy, individuals who have worked for decades in their attempt to bring into fruition more of their ideas for the direction India needs to take, both at one time overshadowed Arvind Kejriwal. Today they have been eclipsed by him and almost never heard of. In contrast, Kejriwal’s party was very much in the news when he opposed Central say in the Delhi administration officialdom. A wide spectrum of opposition parties joined hands with the AAP to oppose the bill moved by Home Minister Amit Shah to change the laws so that control of important officials within the Delhi government will vest with Central and not the state authorities. Political parties such as the Congress, that have been at the receiving end on several occasions of the drive by the AAP for expansion of its voter base, have been vociferously defending the stand of the Delhi government. This is that it is Delhi CM Kejriwal who has the right to control and direct the officials working under him. Were the Congress Party (or even the AAP for that matter) in control of the Central government in the way that the BJP now is, neither would have supported the stand of the AAP joined with several opposition parties that the state government in the Union Territory that is the national capital of the country has the right to control even the senior officials working for it, and not the Central government. Anytime the two were on a collision course, as has been the situation for more than six years now, the Central government would find it difficult if not impossible to function from the national capital. It would find itself severely circumscribed by the Delhi government to take advantage of the broad powers that it has assumed for itself to work on ways of inconveniencing and impacting the functioning of the Union Government. Given the undoubted political talents of not just Chief Minister Kejriwal but some of his closest lieutenants, such an outcome would have been very likely, had the changes to the law effectuated by the Union Home Minister not been passed in Parliament. A city that is paying a high price for reducing the national government almost to an administrative nullity in several crucial fields (including the city police) is London, where MayorSadiq Khan is following his own course where the metropolis is concerned. This has had an effect on the city that is visible, and which is different from what the capital of the UK was before his term as Lord Mayor of London began. Because of the vast powers of the Mayor of London, it is a political prize. Should Boris Johnson once again become Mayor, and Rishi Sunak and his party lose the next general elections to the Labour Party, he would automatically be the most senior office-holder in the Conservative Party, thereby giving him tailwind such as to once again be the standard bearer of his party. Had the Mayor of Washington DC been given the powers that the AAP believes it has a right to exercise over the national capital, the repercussionswould be substantial for whichever administration has been elected in a Presidential contest.Under the circumstances, granting even UT status to Delhi, with an elected government superseding the Municipal Corporation, was going to be a risky proposition had the Delhi government been on a collision course with the Central authorities, as has been the situation between the AAP and the BJP. Delhi is not just another city, not even just another metropolis such as Mumbai or Bengaluru, but is the capital of India. The Central government needs to have the principal voice where the national capital is concerned.
Punjab has shown the potential pulling power of the AAP over the voter, just as Delhi earlier had. Although relatively small in size compared to the Congress Party, the AAP leadership knows that it must win over the existing Congress voter base to jump-start its position within the political spectrum. In fact, not just the AAP but several regional parties are in effect competing with the Congress Party to secure power, which is the reason why the Congress is weak where regional parties are strong, and vice versa. The only way out for the party is to try and ensure that it is seen as the most potent challenger to the BJP. Should such a perception take root, those who are hostile to the BJP would gravitate towards the Congress. The problem for the party is that in Bengal for instance, it is the BJP that is regarded as the strongest challenger to Mamata Banerjee, a regional party-BJP contest that is replicated in many other states as well, leaving the Congress as a peripheral force, including in seat-rich states such as Bihar. The South was a Congress bastion that saved the party from ignominy in 1977, but even there, except in Karnataka, it is not dominant anywhere. The hope of the Congress leadership is that an anti-BJP wave can get created in states where in 2019, the BJP swept the board and that the party would be the beneficiary. Such is the calculation behind the unrelenting effort by the leadership of the Congress Party, especially Rahul Gandhi, to damage the image of the BJP and its leadership, a compliment in reverse that is being returned by the BJP with interest. The Congress seat tally in 2024 needs to cross 75 for the party to have a reasonable chance of heading UPA-style the coalition it is a member of. Which is probably why the major regional players in the I.N.D.I.A alliance try to part with as few LS seats as possible to the Congress Party in the states where they are strong. As an example, AAP even being ready to part with a single LS seat in Delhi to the Congress Party seems doubtful. Given the poor performance of the party in Tamil Nadu, the DMK too is likely to be similarly parsimonious where seats are concerned. Of course, should the Congress Party replicate its Karnataka performance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, that could change. It was not an accident that the JD(S) did poorly in the assembly polls, given the strong showing of the Congress under KPCC President DK Shivakumar, who is also a Vokkaliga, as is HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S). Of course, an assembly victory sometimes turns out to be a mixed blessing, in that an anti-incumbency vote may rise as a consequence of the state government being from a party different from the BJP.
Given the overpowering presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the organisational depth of the BJP, 2024 remains very much in that party’s favour. An opposition composed of mutually feuding parties and a history of indifferent governance in the states seems less than poised to prevent a Modi hat trick in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.