AAP supporters raise slogans outside the party office in Delhi after Kejriwal announced his resignation on Friday. (PTI)
What happens now
The fate of the Delhi government is in the hands of lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, after the Arvind Kejriwal cabinet passed a resolution recommending dissolution of the Assembly and put in its papers. But Jung has few options before him, with the BJP iterating on Friday that it would not stake claim.
Jung held a meeting with Union home ministry officials in the evening at which it was decided that the House would not be dissolved immediately and would instead be kept in suspended animation, sources said. The Delhi Assembly polls are unlikely to be held at the same time as the general election, with the meeting deciding that the next government at the Centre should take a call on when to call them, the sources added.
For now, Kejriwal has been asked to continue as caretaker chief minister.
The Assembly can be kept in suspended animation for six months at a time, with five extensions allowed — a maximum period of three years. During that time, the Delhi administration would be in the hands of the lieutenant governor and bureaucrats.
New Delhi, Feb. 14: Arvind Kejriwal today portrayed himself as a martyr but his smartly timed resignation from the chief minister’s post carries far fewer risks than the CPM’s “historic blunder” in 1996 or Sonia Gandhi’s renunciation of the Prime Minister’s job in 2004, political analysts have said.
By resigning less than two months after taking office amid a wave of popular expectation, Kejriwal has given the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) a chance of keeping alive hopes that it may realise its “utopian” promises, Jawaharlal Nehru University political scientist Vidhu Verma said.
“Right now, there’s this mood he has successfully created, one where he’s selling utopian dreams,” Verma told The Telegraph. “If he actually stays chief minister for three years, no one knows how much he’ll actually be able to do. This helps him keep the utopian dreams alive.”
Kejriwal resigned this evening after his government failed to introduce the AAP’s marquee legislation, the Jan Lokpal bill, in the Delhi Assembly because it had not obtained the necessary approval from lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung.
His trademark muffler wrapped around his head, Kejriwal resigned at the party’s office in central Delhi’s Hanuman Road, about 100 metres from Connaught Place.
“I am willing to resign a hundred times for the Jan Lokpal bill,” Kejriwal said, speaking into a microphone to supporters at the party office.
The subtext of the statement was that unlike the parties and politicians Kejriwal repeatedly vilifies, he did not take office for power and was willing to sacrifice the post of chief minister. Kejriwal was hardly the first Indian politician to make that claim.
“In India, we have a long tradition of abdication in political life, dating back centuries, and in recent history,” said Navnita Chadha Behera, professor of political science at Delhi University. “Each case of claimed abdication is different because of its context.”
In 1996, the Congress agreed to provide outside support to a Third Front government to keep the BJP out of power. Third Front leaders proposed the name of then Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu for the post of Prime Minister.
But the CPM central committee voted out the proposal, a decision that Basu described later as a “historic blunder” because it blocked the first opportunity for a communist Prime Minister.
Eight years on, in 2004, Congress president Sonia Gandhi refused to heed pleas from her colleagues to accept the post of Prime Minister, after her party emerged the single largest in the Lok Sabha elections.
“Today, my inner conscience tells me to politely refuse the post,” Sonia had said then.
Although Kejriwal’s resignation has some echoes of what the CPM had claimed to justify blocking Basu — numerical inadequacy that stands in the way of influencing policy — it does not have the finality of Sonia’s move, which foreclosed any future prime ministerial possibility.
Besides, there were no ideological differences over the Jan Lokpal bill that set the stage for today’s showdown.
“There was no ideology involved in Kejriwal’s case, apart from the proclaimed position against corruption,” Verma said.
The likely sentiment among sections of voters that Kejriwal hasn’t had enough time to prove himself will prove an advantage for the AAP in the Lok Sabha elections, the political scientists said.
But major political returns from today’s resignation are by no means guaranteed, they said.
Kejriwal’s campaign leading up to the Delhi elections was focused on uniting all those who saw themselves as the “aam aadmi” (common man) against mainstream politicians whom he labelled corrupt.
That campaign brought him support from significant sections of the poor — traditionally Congress voters — and the upwardly mobile middle class that usually tilts towards the BJP.
“What the repeated theatrics have done, in my view, is create a divide within those who voted for him,” Behera said.
“The poor may still support him and give him a little more time, but many within the middle class who voted for him are beginning to question whether he’s really any different from the parties he targets when he rewards defaulters who are his supporters, effectively penalising those who pay their bills.”
Indians are also increasingly conscious of attempts by politicians to portray themselves as martyrs, Verma said. “As they say, you can fool some people some of the time, but you can’t fool all people all the time,” she said.