Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal is a changed man: the scowl is gone, the muffler hasn't been brought out as yet and he even breaks into an occasional chuckle. But more than that, Kejriwal appears to have changed his mind about his nemesis from Varanasi: Narendra Modi. The "Modi for PM, Arvind for CM" graphic that accidentally appeared on the AAP website, does reflect a key element of the party's strategy for the upcoming Assembly elections in Delhi: presenting Kejriwal as Delhi's Modi. The AAP has begun adopting many of Modi's campaign tactics. For instance, the AAP's Delhi Dialogue to be held on Jantar Mantar on November 15, appears to be a modified or rather Kejrified version of "Modi's chai pe charcha". "Come, let's make Delhi a world-class city by 2020," the AAP slogan goes, inviting people for discussion. It promises to make Delhi a "safe city for women" and a "premier destination for businesses".
Though probably an AAP style jan sabha, the Delhi Dialogue is showcased more as a summit for "experts, NGOs, think-tanks, businesses and the citizens of Delhi".
Clearly, the AAP is trying to put the "politics of grievance" on the back-burner and adopt a distinctly Modi-esque vocabulary of development. The AAP is selling dreams, Modi style.
AAP leaders, particularly Kejriwal, have evidently toned down their rhetoric against Modi. In a recent interview, the AAP convenor said, "We are fighting against BJP, not Narendra Modi". He even went on to praise the prime minister's oratory skills. The AAP even slammed the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid for inviting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and leaving out Modi, for his son's anointment.
The reason for the AAP's change of heart is two-fold. First, Modi is on a roll. With the BJP winning Maharashtra and Haryana with Modi as its face, it would be foolish on part of the AAP to attack him at this point of time. Second, while the AAP might have captured some of the Congress's erstwhile support base among the Muslims and the poor, it has rapidly lost ground among the middle-class that had propelled it to power in the Assembly elections. The 7-0 sweep by the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections showed that the middle class had clearly shifted towards the saffron party.
The AAP is banking on the fact that despite the BJP's rise, Kejriwal remains the most popular leader in Delhi. None of the leaders in the Delhi BJP - Jagdish Mukhi, Satish Upadhyay or Vijender Gupta - come anywhere near the AAP chief in terms of mass support. Deliberately, the AAP announced Mukhi as the BJP's CM candidate to portray the election as a "Kejriwal versus Mukhi" battle to pre-empt the "Modi versus Kejriwal" narrative that the BJP wants to showcase. This is pretty much what the BJP did by declaring Rahul Gandhi as the Congress's prime ministerial candidate during the Lok Sabha elections, despite the latter not having an official nominee.
So when you can't beat Modi, join him. Abki baar Kejriwal?