By Harihar Swarup
What could be impact of Arvind Kejriwal’s sweeping victory in Delhi elections in other states where polls are due? Firstly, it appears that the BJP is losing its appeal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma has been waning. No wonder if West Bengal goes the Delhi way as Mamata Banerjee is no less popular than Kejriwal. In Bihar, the scenario is altogether different. The BJP-Nitish Kumar led JD(U) alliance appears to be better placed and the opposition is divided with Lalu Prasad in jail. How much the BJP will sway the voters is to be seen.
Let us come to Delhi. At one level, politically Delhi is not a particularly significant battle ground, but the BJP has chosen to make it so. The ruling party at the Centre tried so desperately in so many different ways to neutralize Kejriwal, and yet here he is, back, in office, and reciting Hanuman Chalisa to boot.
His administration was thwarted using a variety of means, legal action was taken against many AAP leaders, and the media was mobilized against the government all through Kejriwal’s tenure. And then in this election, BJP’s campaign touched new lows. The attempt to polarize voters had never been as naked as it was this time around.
The BJP tried its level best to characterize the anti-CAA protest as being anti-national and worked hard to try and connect Kejriwal with those. On his part, Kejriwal was very careful to steer clear of all polarizing issues – JNU, Jamia and Shaheen Bagh – making the BJP campaign look increasingly desperate.
The margin of victory is what is particularly significant. For an incumbent government to come back to office in such a dominant fashion is remarkable. To be able to more or less maintain the almost unreal margin of victory that it had won five years ago is even more special. To be sure, BJP has improved its vote share and has improved its tally. But a 4-5 seat increment in an election involving an incumbent government, and that too after such a concerted effort from none other than Amit Shah is nothing to feel even marginally satisfied about.
This result undermines BJP’s claims of being a strategic party that plays the long game. It had five years to create a viable alternative in Delhi, but it did little to bolster its own local organization and spent all its energies in trying to disrupt and frustrate the AAP government. In 2020, it had no local leader, no platform, and it had no choice but to go back to the one thing it knows well—using the nationalism card to demonize the Muslim community and hope to consolidate the Hindu vote. Measured against the strong development and welfare pitch that the AAP government was able to mount, thanks to its efforts on the ground, BJP’s campaign felt shrill and hollow.
Three things are clear from this emphatic mandate. That nationalism plank not only has limits, but it can backfire. It can win a few incremental votes, but so can it feel stale and desperate, and serve to communicate an absence of any real vision. Second, a party needs a story to win an election. It cannot rely exclusively on the old variables—caste arithmetic, patch work alliances and election time promises are no longer enough. A believable story with evidence that substantiates it is critical. BJP has such a story as has AAP; in this case the letter was far more relevant to voter.
And finally, while a story is necessary, it is not sufficient. AAP’s victory has a lot to do with the maturing of Arvind Kejriwal as a politician. It is only in the last part of his tenure that he found his voice as a leader. He stopped attacking Modi and picking fights with the Centre, realizing that constantly complaining about thwarted by the Centre was undercutting his development narrative and making him look weak, did not only shy away from openly embracing his Hindu identity and framed himself in emotionally resonant terms, but also made more conscious efforts to come through as a leader and chief minister rather than as an activist.
The decision to steer clear of BJP laid traps was adhered to without faltering even once and, as a result, the AAP narrative was delivered to the electorate without any muddling. Kejriwal denied BJP the ammunition that it thrives on while keeping his story intact; BJP has no real argument to offer against his core pitch. (IPA Service)