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Home / Columns / Why the Delhi election matters | Opinion

Why the Delhi election matters | Opinion

The AAP-BJP battle reinforced a pattern. Secularism is getting redefined in Indian politics

columns Updated: Feb 11, 2020 12:33 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Will Kejriwal’s performance or Shah’s strategy prevail?
Will Kejriwal’s performance or Shah’s strategy prevail? (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

The verdict of Delhi’s assembly election will be out today. The results will not only determine who governs the city for five years, but will also leave a new imprint on the canvas of Indian democracy.

The vitriol unleashed during the election campaigning is still fresh. Though the campaign was for the Delhi elections, the manner in which issues were taken up suggested that it was a national election. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fielded an entire brigade of “nationalists”. In the seven-decade-long history of Indian democracy, this was perhaps for the first time a party had deputed almost 250 Members of Parliament for a contest which involved 70 assembly seats. During the campaigning, the party’s former president and home minister Amit Shah led the charge. He went door to door, addressed various gatherings in support of the party’s candidates, and tried to convey his message through several rallies. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, also addressed 12 election rallies. The attempt, as is characteristic of the BJP’s electoral strategy elsewhere, was aimed at winning a significant section of votes from the majority community.

The BJP has made prime minister Narendra Modi its face in this election. But this time, he addressed only two public rallies. This indicated that the party was exercising a degree of caution to ensure that if the result was unfavourable, Brand Modi would remain untarnished. This is despite the fact that the BJP has tried to pass the electoral test by riding on the PM’s far-reaching decisions on issues such as triple talaq, Article 370 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

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Its leaders also mentioned the dharna at Shaheen Bagh repeatedly, accusing political rivals of supporting it. In response, the senior leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) argued that those in charge of law and order in the city had the power, and thus, the responsibility, to clear the dharna at Shaheen Bagh. The law and order machinery of Delhi comes under the Union home ministry. The results will tell which argument resonated with the people of Delhi.

But irrespective of the outcome, the polls have once again proved that India is chalking out a new definition of secularism. Arvind Kejriwal reciting the Hanuman Chalisa only reaffirms that. Later, in a public gathering, he was also seen carrying a mace. Earlier too, various political leaders have visited temples, mosques, and other places of religious significance. The context is hard to miss. Sonia Gandhi had once said that it was because the Congress was projected as an anti-Hindu party that it was defeated in the 2014 elections. There is an effort to counter precisely this impression.

Some may attribute this to the BJP’s quest to establish the dominance of the majority. But it is a fact that AAP, which started the campaign in the name of development, was forced to change its tune to compete with the BJP. They could sense that Shaheen Bagh had become a convenient tool for the BJP to try and change the course of the campaign. The organisers of the protests against the CAA, both in Shaheen Bagh and elsehwere, were aware of this fact. They used the Constitution, the national anthem, and images of Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar as symbols of resistance to foil the attempts at communal polarisation. There was an attempt to chant religion-specific slogans at some places, but the demonstrators stopped it because they didn’t want their efforts to be identified with any particular creed.

The assessments made before these elections clearly projected AAP to be in pole position. That is why the BJP opted for an aggressive strategy right from the beginning. Shah himself was at the helm of this strategy. If you look at his record, you will find that Shah contests every election as if it is his first and last fight. Kejriwal fought on his record on education, electricity, water and health. His honesty, administrative intentions, and efficiency can’t be doubted. In such a scenario, the BJP needed some extra effort to gain a proper foothold in the elections.

Will Delhi vindicate Shah’s aggression? Or will the Kejriwal government’s performance overshadow him? What will be the impact of the Congress’ dismal effort? Tuesday’s outcome will answer these questions. It will also shape Indian politics.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal