As long as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal was complaining about the Centre's vendetta against him, he was on reasonably safe ground. After all, nearly 20% of the Delhi government's legislators have been arrested on various charges and more are being targeted everyday. While the courts will no doubt look into the veracity of the charges, the history of Centre-Delhi relations suggest it wouldn't be outrageous to speak of a vendetta. Then Kejriwal went and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have him killed.
"Insiders have told us that Modiji is very frustrated with us and is very angry," Kejriwal said in the video, released on Wednesday. "So he is not able to think logically about this. So he is not using his mind. The more I think about it, I am unable to sleep."
The Delhi chief minister continued:
"This is a crucial time. All of you introspect and also discuss it with your families. The face-off is set to get dirtier in the time to come. They can go to any extent. They may kill us. They may even kill me. They could do anything. Talk to your families."
This is classic Kejriwal overkill. Sure there's no smoke without fire, but the AAP leader somehow manages to generate a mushroom cloud from a little matchstick.
There is no question that relations between the Centre and the Delhi government have been terrible ever since AAP managed to rout the Bharatiya Janata Party in March 2015, winning 67 of 70 seats right under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nose. Since then Kejriwal and the Lt Governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, who takes his orders from the Centre, have constantly butted heads with the chief minister in particular complaining about the fact that he doesn't have control over Delhi Police, since it reports to the Union Home Ministry.
Over the last few months this has gotten even worse, with as many as 11 AAP Members of Legislative Assembly accused under various charges, some quite serious. There's no doubt some of these are very serious allegations, including molestation, assault and land-grab. Naresh Yadav is even accused of desecrating the Quran in Malerkotla, Punjab.
Realising that making technical noises about each of the individual cases would fail to make much of an impact, AAP has instead consistently fallen back on the line that all of the allegations are a part of the Centre's vendetta. Molestation charges? Vendetta. Assault allegations? Vendetta. Corruption investigation? It's because Modi is a "coward" and a "psychopath", as Kejriwal said in December when his office was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation in December.
Kejriwal's approach is evident. He's trying to turn a weakness – the fact that many of his MLAs now face criminal charges – into a strength, insisting it is proof that the government is out to get them.
This achieves several things. It means he doesn't have to answer too many questions about the individual allegations against his MLAs. Kejriwal also manages to continue remaining in the news, and to portray himself as being directly up against Modi, continuing to build on his national profile. And finally, it helps AAP avoid questions of governance and instead focus purely on politics at a time when the party is trying to make inroads into Punjab, Gujarat and Goa, all of which will see elections next year.
No wonder AAP members are rather triumphantly giving out information about the arrests of their own MLAs.
Kejriwal's comments however take this to another level. It's easy for him to point to the vendetta just in the sheer numbers. But political assassination? This only cements the chief minister's image of being unnecessarily dramatic.
In the short-term it allows him to avoid negative stories about criminal allegations against his MLAs, but it also contributes to an image nationally of a chief minister less interested in governance and more in picking fights with the prime minister. This may not have much effect in Punjab, where anger against the Shiromani Akali Dal government is so strong that any alternative has raised the hopes of the people.
But beyond Punjab, convincing voters in other parts of the country will get harder if they do not take Kejriwal – AAP's only national face – seriously. Of course, nothing begets success like success. If all these antics helps AAP win in Punjab next year, Kejriwal won't have to worry too much about being called a dramebaaz, which is probably why the chief minister is alway swilling to take the most dramatic course of action.