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Now You See Him, Now You Don't: What's Kejriwal Up to?

Three times over the past fortnight, Sisodia's face has smiled at voters from ads in the major newspapers titled "Why should the people of Delhi suffer?"

Rupashree Nanda | CNN-News18

Updated:July 20, 2016, 6:08 PM IST
Now You See Him, Now You Don't: What's Kejriwal Up to?
File photo of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

New Delhi: Arvind Kejriwal has gone strangely absent from the high-profile Delhi government advertisements splashed across major newspapers, ceding his space to deputy Manish Sisodia and sparking speculation about the unpredictable chief minister's immediate plans.

The apparent move to project Sisodia in Delhi has tongues wagging: Is the Delhi CM plotting a move to Punjab, where AAP is strongly placed against the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine in elections due early next year?

Three times over the past fortnight, Sisodia's face has smiled at voters from ads in the major newspapers titled "Why should the people of Delhi suffer?"

This is strange in itself: AAP is a party dominated by its boss to the extent that it has sparked comparisons with Narendra Modi's stranglehold over the BJP.

Speaking to CNN-News18, Sisodia tried to downplay the ads, saying that only one face was allowed on them. The ads may have pertained to his departments but they also had a generic message, outlining the achievements of the Delhi government while taking potshots at the Centre. They used the language and logic used by Kejriwal in the past.

It's not just the ads. When Kejriwal's principal secretary Rajinder Kumar was arrested by the CBI and 9 officers of the Delhi Government were transferred on July 4, Kejriwal did not speak or even tweet from the campaign trail in Punjab. Here was a juicy opportunity to take on Modi's government, and Kejriwal, uncharacteristically, ducked it, giving Sisodia the chance to lash out against the BJP at press conferences.

So what could this recent reticence mean?

Rumours about Kejriwal moving across the border to the much bigger prize, Punjab, refuse to die down. At various levels, this would make sense for AAP.

The party could win the election on the back of his earnest campaigning style and the hard miles done by the AAP team over the past year. Kejriwal could then find himself CM of a rich and strategic state, a bigger platform for the long-cherished dream of a national conquest.

"The public chooses the CM. And he cannot be CM of every state in which we win," Sisodia said. But it is true that AAP could be a force in Goa, where elections are scheduled in early 2017, and has little to lose in Gujarat's assembly elections, also due next year, where it dreams of bearding Modi in his den.

Party leaders are sceptical about a move, but Kejriwal himself has kept mum on his plans, cleverly refraining from shooting down the speculation. This uncertainty is bound to add to the BJP's discomfiture in a state where it is saddled with an unpopular ally that is battling incumbency.

The other possibility is that Kejriwal wants to place himself above the fray and take on a national role, leaving Delhi-related sniping at the BJP to Sisodia and saving himself for the bigger issues.

And of course, it could just be that Sisodia's pictures are appearing on the ads because the party wants Kejriwal to focus on campaigning. But this is also interesting in that it may be a pointer to the year ahead: While Kejriwal hits the road trying to make AAP a national force, a project that fetched meagre returns in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Sisodia runs Delhi. Kejriwal is known to be a fan of Sisodia's administrative skills: In fact, he flirted with the idea of making him CM during the party's first, 49-day, foray into power in Delhi.

Sisodia, who plans to shed his urban development and information technology portfolios due to his increased workload, acknowledged his growing administrative responsibilities.

"In the run-up to Punjab and Goa, the CM will be busy and I will be focusing on Delhi. Whenever the CM is away, I look after the work of Delhi as acting CM," he said.

One thing is clear: Kejriwal continues to lead the BJP a merry dance. AAP seems to be the only party the Hindu right fears, precisely because it departs from the script so often. The CM's conspicuous absence from the ads, coupled with the fact that he still heads all the really crucial government meetings, may be yet another manifestation of his smoke-and-mirror tactics.

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