With three elections in a span of fourteen months, it has been a politically supercharged time for Delhi. Fourteen months that have seen the implosion of Congress to a faux opposition party, the turbulent rise - then fall - then resurrection of the Aam Aadmi Party, and BJP virtually accomplishing its dream of pan India domination. But just as team ModiShah seemed to be an unstoppable force — set to take over Bengal and Bihar next — they have been halted in their tracks by a man who had been reduced to a political joke a few months ago. Arvind Kejriwal’s remarkable resilience as a politician is making all the headlines — what is not, is how BJP got its electoral maths in its own backyard, so disastrously wrong.
An auto rickshaw in New Delhi sports an elecion poster of the two front runners for the CM’s post AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and BJP’s Kiran Bedi. PIc/AFP
Every opinion poll has predicted that this is going to be a close one, some claiming a dead heat. When the EVMs are finally unsealed on the 10th of February, it may still be the BJP that might inch ahead, but that’s beside the point. Even in victory, the Delhi hustings would leave the BJP battered, bruised, and certainly not the party that was the unstoppable, unassailable force it was over the last nine months or so.
Morally, it’s a defeat already for BJP in Delhi because, despite a supremely well-organised structure and leadership, the party was outsmarted, outmanoeuvred, outwitted at almost every step of the way by a nascent AAP driven by the zeal of one man. AAP learnt the tricks of the trade and moved deftly, while BJP waited for ModiShah to get free from other state conquests to focus on Delhi — by the time they did, it was too late to contain the damage. Delhi in many ways would give regional satraps a blueprint to halt BJP’s long march towards East and South India. This is how.
Arvind Kejriwal didn’t make the cardinal mistake that politicians are prone to making — wait for the elections. Soon after the Lok Sabha drubbing, AAP got to work in Delhi at the colony level, meeting people, getting feedback and criticism, understanding the real issues. It was a fight for political survival so Kejriwal did something very uncharacteristic of an Indian political leader — he tendered an unconditional apology to people for having quit after 49 days and from there was born the slogan of ‘5 saal Kejriwal’, as assurance of full term in office. So while Modi took oath to office, toured the world, focused on Mission 44 in Jammu and Kashmir — AAP was building bridges with a miffed electorate in Delhi.
Contrast this with the BJP’s last minute campaign strategy that was largely anti-Kejriwal, giving more credence to a man the party didn’t even see a worthy opponent till now. Then after announcing that there wouldn’t be a Chief Ministerial candidate, the BJP did a U-turn and Kiran Bedi was suddenly given a quick induction and promotion. However this ‘import strategy’ didn’t go down well with the old timers and Bedi herself proved disastrous with her daily utterings. Her rejection of a moderated debate with Kejriwal was used by AAP to showcase her as a weakling, operating under the shadow of Modi.
Unlike Kejriwal, the BJP didn’t apologise, not for the 4-baby-demanding Shakshi Maharaj, not for the loony Hindu Mahasabha out to marry Valentines couples, not for the growing intolerance to freedom of speech and certainly not for the violence in Bawana and Trilokpuri. In fact, the Prime Minister has a vision of upto 2050 for India, but is blind to the rising right wing fringe who’re confident that ‘their man’ is at the helm. Delhi certainly is not taking a kind view of the lab experiments going on in the NCR or across the country, therefore the growing middle class and upper class support to Kejriwal.
AAP already had the unstinted support of the low classes, the street hawkers, the rickshaw and auto drivers — the class that gets hit by corruption on a daily basis — and nothing has changed for them ever since Modi came to power. AAP has shown that clear focus of vote base is more powerful than the ‘Hindu Vote’ of yesteryears.
The BJP knows that it’s a tough battle and that it may go down to the last seat — that is why the active involvement of Modi-Shah-Jaitley in the campaigning; not to mention a plethora of BJP ministers and MPs who have been allocated campaign duty in Delhi. While there have been some ‘exposes’ on AAP and some dubious black money funding, the BJP itself hasn’t been able to provide details of its campaign fund and how much Black Money stashed abroad has come back as was promised during the Lok Sabha elections. Also the ability of AAP to use the media to hit back BJP allegations has left the party without too much ammunition. The same BJP that had been experts at media management in 2014, are calling media persons ‘bazaaru’ in 2015!
Delhi 2015 hustings would be remembered for engineered defections, motivated ‘exposes’ and negative campaigning. It would also be remembered for the ability of a small party to upset the apple cart for the BJP. Notice how the phrase ‘Modi Wave’ is missing from this election; clearly Delhi is low tide for the BJP. While this may not be a referendum on Modi per say, the struggle to win on ‘home turf’ clearly indicates that people’s patience or love for the BJP is not limitless. The disenchantment is setting in — or as one auto driver put it succinctly, “I have seen the face of BJP; even if it was not AAP and the party was TUM, my vote would have gone there”. ModiShah and Company better watch out then, because they lost this one.
Akash Banerjee is a broadcast professional and Author of Tales from Shining and Sinking India