Arvind Kejriwal was called a monkey, a Naxalite and AK49 (for the 49 days he was chief minister after the last Delhi state elections) by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha campaigns in 2013 and during the campaign for the Delhi Assembly elections just now. The upshot: Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party won 67 seats, the BJP three and the Congress none.
The Aam Aadmi Party emerged the clear victor with 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly elections. Kejriwal and the AAP have done something that is now almost unheard of in Indian politics. They reworked themselves, they were honest about the mistakes they made and they went back in this form to the electorate. Pic/PTI
This election, much that it was for a city that does not even have full state status, assumed the proportions of a national referendum. The BJP, for reasons only it knows, brought out the prime minister and most of the Cabinet to campaign against Kejriwal and AAP. They also made former India Against Corruption member and India’s most famous former police officer Kiran Bedi their chief ministerial candidate.
The New Delhi result is unprecedented not just for AAP’s remarkable numbers but also for the faith placed in a party which did not exist three years ago, which collapsed when it was a movement against corruption, unceremoniously took itself out of power after 49 days in government where it made some serious gaffes and spread itself too thin during the general elections. Kejriwal and the AAP have done something that is now almost unheard of in Indian politics. They reworked themselves, they were honest about the mistakes they made and they went back in this form to the electorate.
But even that’s not enough to go on as far as this victory is concerned. The vote wasn’t only in favour of the AAP and Kejriwal. It was also a stark reminder to the Congress that it has made itself completely meaningless. But more than anything else, it was a message to the BJP that the posturing by the prime minister and the disturbing comments made by several of its “fringe elements” in the Lok Sabha has not worked. In May 2014, the BJP won 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, reducing the Congress to 44 seats, its worst showing ever. Since then, the BJP has done well in various assembly elections. Except now.
There is an anti-incumbency factor that works in elections, no matter if there is a wave or a tsunami or any other geological factors at work. And there was no government in the city of Delhi since AAP pulled out the last time. Delhi was ruled by the Centre. This result then points straight to the government at the Centre and some unhappiness with the way it functions or has not functioned. Large promises made to the people of India and stirring speeches made to people outside India have not translated into much on the ground. The BJP’s symbolic piggy-backing like the Swachh Bharat or Clean India campaign using AAP’s broom or making Bedi the CM candidate did not work. For some, Narendra Modi’s R10 lakh (at least) suit from Saville Row with his name woven into the pinstripes in gold did not work either.
There is some conversation going on about how Mumbai and Delhi would react to the same election stimulus. Delhi wins hands down as a political city. Mumbai is far more spoiled than Delhi in many ways because for decades it has been better run with better fundamentals. It also has limited political interference in key areas because of the way the municipal corporation is structured. But as calls increase to make Mumbai more like Delhi, the city has to relook at what works and what has failed it.
It was in Mumbai that India Against Corruption fell apart, licking its wounds. Kejriwal worked out an answer with the Aam Aadmi Party, Anna Hazare went back to Ralegan Siddhi and Kiran Bedi looked for traction wherever she could find it. How would the AAP or a similar outfit do in Mumbai now? Would a slothful city get out and look for change? There is, of course, an inherent danger in the sort of opposition-less victory that AAP has achieved in Delhi. But it speaks to the anger of the voter with the sort of politics on offer in India. But even with such problems ahead, it may help Mumbai’s further cause to think more like Delhi and less like itself when it comes to elections.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona