Mandate can take AAP’s model national
The narrative the BJP ran this time around to wrest power from Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was somewhat similar.Updated: Feb 12, 2020 05:53 IST
In the 2008 Delhi assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) chief ministerial face, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, made the hanging of the Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru a major election plank against the Congress’s incumbent CM Shiela Dikshit’s development agenda. The result: the BJP lost, and Dikshit won for the third time on the trot.
The narrative the BJP ran this time around to wrest power from Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was somewhat similar. The Afzal Guru imagery was replaced with Shaheen Bagh, and the underpinned terrorism-national security pitch was used to smear the anti-citizenship law protests in the area. But Delhi stood steadfast, ignoring the BJP’s appeal in the manner it had done in the elections held three days after the 9/11 Mumbai attack. The national capital had then gone to polls on November 29, 2008: the assault on our financial capital was on November 26. The Congress got 43 seats and the BJP 23, with the remaining four seats going to sundry parties in the 70-member House.
What clicked for Dikshit were her grandmother image and the work she had done in the metropolis. Ditto for Kejriwal! He ran a campaign built around his record that was an alluring mix of free bus rides for women, water-power sops, and on-ground delivery in the health and education sectors.
There were animated street-corner discussions on what was termed as the AAP’s BSP (Bijli-School-Pani); Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party with an identical acronym remaining, like the Congress, on the margins of the contest. The CM’s welfarism was complimented by his amenable demeanor. He steered clear of the BJP’s bombast.
At close quarters, the AAP convener’s communication skills were reminiscent of Lalu Yadav of yore. The way he interacted with his urban constituents exuded the chemistry the Bihar leader enjoyed at his prime with crowds in the countryside.
Kejriwal’s political savvy did not let the BJP’s prophecies and taunts overshadow his party’s talking points.
Sample these arguments: He did not visit Shaheen Bagh as the resolution of issues which agitated the crowds there weren’t in his domain; what’s keeping the powerful Union Home Minister from clearing the squatters from the road for close to two months, he asked instead.
Mobilising its top central and state leaders, the BJP helped Kejriwal chronicle a David versus Goliath fight: “I’m a small man on whom they’ve trained all their big guns…” He smothered the anti-Hindu jibes hurled at him by showing himself as a worshipper of Hanuman, the best-known mythological devotee of Ram.
Quite a few Congress and BJP leaders admitted to this writer that their efforts to deconstruct Kejriwal came unstuck. The AAP’s message had gone “too deep” for competing parties to unravel its hold across socio-economic groups, admitted a former Delhi MP. The party successfully obliterated social identities to create a class allegiance among the poor, the lower middle-class, and a sizeable chunk of middle-income people. What impressed most were the “functional” government schools, hospitals and mohalla clinics. That the AAP tapped the sentiment of the people better was evident from the pride with which parents of the less-privileged children attended Parent-Teacher meetings in government-run schools.
No surprises then that Delhi vanquished fear to court hope. Its thumping third mandate for Kejriwal might make the AAP’s template of development and sops a national currency.