Without CM face, Amit Shah at forefront of BJP campaign in Delhi
The election campaign in Delhi was widely expected to be an electoral battle in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would pitch Prime Minister Narendra Modi against chief minister Arvind Kejriwal as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seeks another term. However, it is home minister Amit Shah who is leading the BJP’s electoral charge, both at the front end through a series of public appearances and at the back-end by marshalling resources.
Over the past week, Shah has addressed several rallies and public meetings in the national capital to allege the AAP government failed to deliver on its promises of free Wi-Fi and quality education. The Union minister said more than 700 schools did not have principals. “Kejriwal had also said that more than 15 lakh CCTV cameras will be installed, were they installed at all places? He had said that 5,000 buses for DTC will be purchased, but only 300 were brought and then the news was released in media,” he said. He also praised the Narendra Modi-led central government for bringing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and revoking Jammu & Kashmir’s special status.
Shah hit the campaign circuit on Thursday last week, and has addressed at least a dozen gatherings to campaign for the BJP. On Sunday, he held a roadshow in Ghonda assembly segment in north-east Delhi and attended public meetings in Babarpur and Rohtas Nagar.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal released a video to directly respond to Shah’s allegations against the AAP government’s delivery on key promises. “I have been noticing over the past few days, Amit Shah ji comes every day and, in his election campaigning, insults the people of Delhi. This is not right. In the last five years, with hard work, the people of Delhi have spruced up the Capital. The two million people of Delhi have together fixed their schools, hospitals, electricity and water. But Amit Shah ji comes every day and mocks the hard work of the Delhi residents over the last five years,” Kejriwal said in the video posted on his Twitter handle.
The CM’s message highlighted the role Shah is playing for the BJP, which the AAP often targets for not having a prominent Delhi leader to lead the charge.
In addition to the rallies, Shah has also started chairing organisational meetings about the Delhi elections, for which the BJP is unlikely to name a chief ministerial candidate. There is no exact number of how many such meetings have been held, but people aware of the details said Shah has been reviewing the preparation at the booth levels, and overseeing the details of the issues that will be raised.
“The BJP is relying on Shah to change the mood on the ground… and it is for this reason he hit the campaign trail earlier than expected,” said a party functionary who asked not to be named. The party’s newly appointed president JP Nadda has also been holding rallies – according to a functionary, he has held over a dozen meetings in the past few days.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia alleged the Union minister and senior BJP leader has made false allegations during his rallies. “It is a good thing that Amit Shah is leading the BJP’s campaign in Delhi. The Union minister is talking about unauthorised colonies in the city, water, power, schools and other schemes. As we had earlier mentioned, it would help us improve our own work. But the minister is also lying when it comes to criticising us on these fields. He should have instead pulled up the MPs who have won all seven seats in Delhi not for one but two consecutive terms since 2014. Have they contributed in Delhi’s development? Amit Shah should ask them,” Sisodia told reporters on Friday.
The Congress’s social media chairperson Rohan Gupta, who is part of the campaign committee for the Delhi elections, said the BJP’s reliance on Shah is because they have nothing to speak of in terms of development.
“After winning seven seats in the Lok Sabha, the BJP has not done much. After reading the mood of the ground, the BJP has gone back to its old friend in need — Pakistan. When there is no development, there is divisiveness to rely on. They have mastered the art of hatred politics. But in the same manner that they were rejected in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and stopped short of majority in Haryana. Delhi, too, will reject them. Ab ki baar, Delhi se baahar,” said Gupta.
The BJP is also in the process of finalising the schedule for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies in the city, said a functionary. These are expected in the first week of February after the party manifesto is released, he said. “The PM is a crowd-puller and he continues to remain our start campaigner, but the Nadda-Shah duo has rung alarm bells for the AAP,” the functionary quoted above said.
A second party functionary said the BJP will showcase issues such as CAA and Article 370 as its achievements and it does not see the ongoing protests (against CAA and a proposed all-India NRC) as a setback. “These protests are helping in reverse polarisation -- people can see who is instigating these protests and to what end. So we are not averse to referring to issues such as CAA or the unrest in universities,” the second functionary said.
Commenting on Shah taking charge of the campaigning, Ajay Gudavarthi, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the party is banking on him because it is fighting the election on CAA and the home minister championed the new law. “They [BJP] are not expecting a good result in Delhi and Modi is their trump card. Wherever they do not expect to perform well, they use Modi sparingly. So they have Shah leading the campaign, making it welfare versus NRC,” he said.
The AAP swept the Delhi elections in 2015, winning 67 of the 70 assembly seats. Delhi goes to the polls on February 8, and the results will be announced on February 11.