How should Narendra Modi respond to AAP?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Whether we agree or disagree with AAP and its policies, we cannot afford to ignore the spectacular success it achieved in such a short span of time. It is true that Delhi is not India and AAP could face considerable heat in rural hinterland as well as in other urban centers like Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. If it does decide to fight elections there, the AAP even though not significant, will generate lot of chatter and support among middle class voters. Much of its support base is very cynical about politics and do not subscribe to any particular ideology in general.

In Kejriwal, they see someone who is honest, with absolutely no greed of power or money, someone who does not follow any set agenda, and someone who would clean the system. They do not necessarily subscribe to the AAP’s views on economics or national security. There are also folks in the intellectual community who have been disappointed by the so-called secular parties like Congress, JDU, and SP in miserably failing to counter the Modi hurricane and thus see Arvind Kejriwal as their ‘Knight in Shining Armor.’

Though in light of all these facts, it cannot be said with certainty that Kejriwal can stop the Modi juggernaut, one thing BJP should consider is that Kejriwal does pose a bump in Modi’s drive to 7, Race Course Road. The big question here is how should BJP respond to this challenge? Unlike the Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party does not have any past record of misgovernance, corruption, or other taint. While it was easier for Narendra Modi to attack the Gandhi dynasty, Kejriwal does not come with such baggage.

I myself was an AAP supporter during its infancy (though now I have been considerably disappointed with its rigid socialist stance) and so I have kind of gone through the emotions of an AAP fan-boy. Based on that, I think BJP should adopt the following four point strategy in countering AAP -

  1. Surveys done by multiple independent agencies as well as by AAP itself point out that almost 50% of its supporters in Delhi would like to see Narendra Modi as PM. However, this support should not be taken for granted by BJP now that Kejriwal himself has shown that he can achieve the impossible. Further, since these people consider Kejriwal as someone who will solve all their problems, it may turn counter-productive for BJP to attack Kejriwal. This is exacerbated by the fact that top AAP leadership (Arvind Kejriwal, Yogendra Yadav, Manish Sisodia, Prashant Bhushan) are viciously Anti-Modi. In short, BJP leaders should strictly avoid ‘directly’ attacking AAP or any of its leaders as it may alienate the Modi supporters among AAP’s base.
  2. Since directly attacking AAP can prove to be counter-productive, BJP should show that how vote for AAP is an indirect vote for Congress. But in doing so, BJP should avoid directly painting AAP as stooge of Congress as no ordinary person would easily believe that AAP and Congress have an overt understanding between them. BJP should rather show how AAP got used by Congress in stopping Dr Harsh Vardhan in forming government in Delhi and that despite being reduced to single digits in Delhi Assembly, Congress was still able to call the shots by using AAP as pawn in its game of chess. In short, BJP should implicitly send a message ‘that in order to use a broom, hand is always required.’
  3. BJP should publicly accept the fact that AAP has introduced a whole new dimension in politics. It should appreciate that AAP has changed the rule of the game by focusing on decentralization of power, end to lal-batti culture, bringing in transparent donation system, etc. But at the same time, it should highlight that the nation is in a very critical juncture and it requires a strong, decisive leadership to come out of the mess created by UPA in last 10 years. While some of AAP’s principles are very much required to be adopted by all political parties, BJP should remind voters that cutting electricity rates by half, providing free water, blindly regularizing slums, etc is not going to solve current problems of inflation, mal-governance, and unemployment. By highlighting Modi’s economic model and its positive impact on society, BJP should create a space distinct from that of AAP.
  4. One of the strongest points with Arvind Kejriwal is that he is seen as a Messiah of Anti-Corruption Brigade. BJP on the other hand has failed to show that its leaders have done considerable more work in last 20 years against corruption than what Kejriwal has been shown to have by media. It should showcase how Ravi Shankar Prasad’s and Sushil Modi’s perseverance led to conviction of Laloo Prasad Yadav and others in the Fodder Scam, how for years Kirit Somaiya has been highlighting scams and filing cases in Maharashtra and how Dr Subramanium Swamy on multiple occasions has virtually brought down the UPA on its knees in 2G and other scams. BJP should send a message that just because media did not highlight these instances does not mean that BJP is corrupt like Congress. Further, BJP should show its stable of CMs like Modi, Chauhan, Raman Singh, Parrikar who are not only clean and non-corrupt but effective administrators who have provided all rounded development.

I believe if BJP uses the above 4 strategies effectively till May 2014, it can blunt the ‘BJP-Congress Bhai Bhai’ claims of Aam Aadmi Party. Also, by not directly attacking AAP and avoiding the name-calling of its leadership as Maoists, Anarchists, etc, BJP can considerably influence the undecided fence-sitter (who considers Kejriwal in high regard) to give Narendra Modi a chance to govern India for 60 months rather than look for untried and untested leadership.