By Kalyani Shankar
Whoever thought seven years ago that the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would come this far to bag the throne of Delhi for the third term? Though AAP had arrived as a disruptive force in 2013 and dismissed as an upstart, its chief Kejriwal surprised his critics with his ability to grasp public opinion and change for the better in his roller coaster political ride. There was a method in his madness though his critics called him an anarchist. Actually, Delhi was not the end of his ambition, as he took on Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and contested in 400 Lok Sabha seats displaying how overly ambitious he was. Even after winning this time, the AAP was talking of nation building. When Kejriwal found that he had spread himself too thin, he changed track again.
But for now, he must be satisfied with the landslide win in the Delhi Assembly polls. This is the second time the ‘Modi magic’ did not work in Delhi polls, that too just six months after the BJP’s impressive 2019 victory. The fight was between the AAP and the BJP. The BJP had gone all out to win back the state as it had been in the wilderness for more than two decades now bombarding the city with its high profile leaders.
What worked for Kejriwal this time? The coup was that he did a ‘Modi on Modi’ as Modi won the 2014 elections on “Vikas” and Kejriwal stole the idea and used it in the Delhi polls. With five years of track record he did not go to the Delhi voters empty handed. He was armed with his welfare measures including free power, water, improved health services, better educational facilities, doorstep delivery of services to the common man, free bus ride to women, better street lighting, CCTV etc., and sought votes on his government’s performance. Though his critics alleged that he was doling out the taxpayer’s money, his projection of his party working for the poor went in his favour. He also kept himself away from the Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protests and hate politics though Muslims are part of his core voters.
Secondly, Kejriwal is nothing if not a quick learner. He realized his mistakes and changed his style of functioning after the AAP’s humiliating defeat in the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections in 2017 but the real change came after the drubbing of the AAP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. So Kejriwal attempted an image makeover. From portraying an image of the angry young man in 2012, he projected himself as a ‘Vikas Purush”. The “ Muffler man,” Kejriwal discarded his muffler and also projected himself as a family man. The winning tactic was that Kejriwal preferred to fight on his own turf Delhi and strictly on bread and butter issues, where he and not the BJP, has the advantage. He consciously stopped his confrontationist politics and surprised many when his party supported the contentious bills on the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir in the Rajya Sabha. He also welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. All these have resulted in a better relationship between the CM and the PM. Modi even sent Kejriwal a happy birthday greetings when he turned 51.
Fourthly, he scrupulously kept the poll narrative to local issues while the BJP was on national issues. He bombarded the social media and radio with his advertisements. His critics allege that he had spent as much as Rs 500 cores for personal and party’s publicity.
Fifthly, Kejriwal had also abandoned his constant fight with Delhi’s Lt Governor after the Supreme Court ordered the Lt Governor to work on the “aid and advice of the council of ministers”. The constant court battles too have stopped.
Sixthly, and more importantly, neither the Congress nor the BJP had any credible leaders to match his stature. The BJP was betting on the Modi magic while the Congress was invoking the work of Sheila Dixit during her three terms.
In short, his victory was due to four main factors. Firstly, Kejriwal was successful in making the people believe that he merited another chance. Secondly, people saw him as a ‘doer’ compared to his earlier image of a political upstart. Third was the decline of the Congress and lack of any credible leader in the BJP. Fourthly he was successful in nurturing of the ‘poor’ constituency. He took credit for the regularization of illegal colonies. He stayed away from polarizing politics.
There is a danger that this hat trick might make him more autocratic. Already his critics say that he is building a personality cult around him. The AAP and its chief should remember that there are many challenges ahead if he wants to move on to become a national player.