BJP suffered humiliating defeat in Delhi assembly elections. The Modi’s indispensible image has been tarnished as the result of this crushing defeat. Delhi voters rejected the politics of hatred and divide. The negative campaigning failed to impress the Delhi voters. BJP relied too heavily on Hindutva and anti-Muslim agenda in the election campaign. The BJP leaders tried to incite violence and hate against anti-citizen act protestors and especially against women protestors of Shaheen Bagh.
BJP leaders are no more trying to hide their real agenda. They have been emboldened by clear victory in last Lok Sabha elections just 8 months ago. They started to believe that there is no political force which can stop their march towards authoritarian hardline Hindu nationalist state. They are now openly using fascist tactics and violent means to achieve their goal of Hindutva state.
Hindutva plank has worked for the BJP for years. The Congress tried to go with soft Hindutva with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra hopping temples during the Lok Sabha election. But they failed. Their failure was blamed on their strategy to over-attack PM Modi, who has emerged as the biggest vote aggregator. But Modi’s appeal seems to be limited to the Lok Sabha election. In state elections where local issues and ground realities dominate the campaign, it has been a different ball game altogether.
The election campaign was riddled with controversial remarks, most of which came from the BJP leaders. Union minister Anurag Thakur in sync with audience at a poll rally shouted slogan that translated into “shoot the traitors”. The slogan-raising saw at least two instances of firing at Jamia Nagar and Shaheen Bagh – both centres of anti-CAA protests.
Other BJP leaders such as Manoj Tiwari, Parvesh Verma, Kapil Mishra and even Union minister Prakash Javadekar made comments that were controversial. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was equally acerbic in using “abusive” language. “Danda maarenge” (youth will beat up PM Modi) remark by Rahul Gandhi led to a huge row. This strategy has failed.
Kejriwal and his AAP skillfully combined the performance of Delhi government and his Hindu identity to attract middle class Hindu voters. Unlike Congress- Kejriwal did not tried to openly embrace the Muslim voters-instead he presented himself as devotee Hindu. This strategy worked well for his party.
In the last lap of Delhi election campaign, Kejriwal presented himself as a devotee of Lord Hanuman, known in legends and epic Ramayana as an incarnation of Lord Shiva and the most ardent follower of Lord Ram. He also visited a popular Hanuman temple in Delhi.
Kejriwal was criticised for asserting his Hindu identity on social media and at public events but the party insiders said this move countered the BJP’s attempt to paint him and the AAP as anti-Hindu. This helped the AAP offset polarisation that the BJP attempted in the Delhi election, the AAP leaders said.
He kept distance from leading Muslim organisations and figures during the campaign. He focused on middle class Hindu voters who went overwhelmingly for Modi in the national elections 8 months ago. He did not attack the Modi like Congress. He did not play on Modi’s pitch to make him as the central issue of his election campaign- instead he focused on his performance.
But Arvind Kejriwal came as the angry man of Indian politics six years ago, made a conscious shift to present an image of a good boy of Indian politics. Kejriwal constantly spoke about himself before the voters as “aapka beta” (the son of Delhi) during his election campaign.
He started building this “son of Delhi” image with his thrust on the pilgrimage programme wherein Kejriwal presented himself as modern day Shravan Kumar – the ideal son of the legend who carried his blind parents on his shoulders on a pan-India pilgrimage. This nice guy image of Kejriwal struck a chord with the Delhi voters, who did not like foul language used during election campaign by his rivals.
The middle-class had overwhelmingly supported the BJP in the Lok Sabha election. That had given the BJP hope that it could retain the middle-class support in Delhi. Kejriwal went out to the middle-class voters offering freebies concerning their daily-life household needs and presenting a picture of an honest government.
Kejriwal was heard saying at public events that the people have decided “Modi for Centre and Kejriwal for Delhi”. In his rallies, election meetings and TV interviews, Kejriwal cleverly backed this narrative topping it up with a warning that “the BJP would not help you get treatment in hospitals, lessen electricity bills and ensure quality and affordable education” in Delhi. These are the daily worries of the middle and lower middle class people.
The Congress had drawn a naught in 2015 but polled 9.7 per cent of total votes cast. This time, the Congress’s vote share is below 5 per cent. This has had its own impact on the outcome of the Delhi election.
Pre-election analysis had that the more Congress gains in Delhi polls, better is the chance of the BJP to win this election. Kejriwal’s strategy was focused not only on countering the BJP by choosing where to attack and where not, but also on making sure that the Congress does not get traction, particularly among the Muslim voters in the backdrop of anti-CAA protest in Delhi.
Top Congress leaders were seen speaking from the dais at Shaheen Bagh. Priyanka Gandhi had led a sit-in at India Gate to protest police action inside Jamia Millia Islamia leaving many students injured.
Kejriwal and the AAP, however, were successful in conveying the message that the Congress was not in the race to capture power in Delhi, and a vote to the party – which looked absolutely divided and out of sorts – would be helping the BJP. This helped the AAP pulling lots of floating voters to itself.
The Delhi election is likely to go a long way in establishing the credibility of the AAP as a serious political party and Arvind Kejriwal among top political faces of the country with a bright potential in future. This conclusion from the Delhi election looks more emphatic considering what would have been the future of the AAP and Kejriwal had they lost power in the national capital.
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17 November, 2019