HT Editorial| Delhi polls: Avoid divisive rhetoric
Focus on development; don’t polarise on religious linesUpdated: Jan 27, 2020 05:50 IST
At the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit last December, Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, said that in the city’s elections, each party — including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — had to contest on the basis of development issues. Identity — be it caste or religion — was not the issue in Delhi. As polls approach, it is clear that this is not necessarily true. The discourse in the Delhi election is starting to increasingly centre along divisive national issues, and the responsibility for it largely lies with the BJP.
Go back to what appeared to be the original contours of the campaign. The Aam Aadmi Party promised to singularly focus on improvement in education and health facilities, cheaper and more extensive supply of electricity and water. The BJP appeared to plan its campaign around how Mr Kejriwal’s confrontational nature had cost Delhi in terms of development and having a “triple-engine” government, led by the BJP, both at the Centre, the municipal corporations, and in Delhi. The BJP saw its decision to grant ownership papers to residents of unauthorised colonies as a key measure that would help win it the votes of millions of residents.
But the script changed almost entirely in the wake of protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the violence in Seelampur, the sit-in at Shaheen Bagh, and the police violence in Jamia. Mr Kejriwal, for most part, decided to stay away from the anti-CAA protests, wary that it could alienate some of his voters along communal lines. But given the centrality of the issue, his party eventually backed the people protesting in Shaheen Bagh. This was perhaps also with an eye on the Muslim vote —it is in competition to win the support of Muslims with the Congress, whose leaders have been visiting the site. But the BJP was quick to pick on this. The party’s leaders, in the campaign, appear to suggest that the entire opposition to the CAA is led by Muslims; frame those supporting these protests as “anti-national”; and have alluded that the election is a test of whether you were for India or against India. BJP candidate Kapil Mishra’s tweet, which declared that the electoral contest, was one between India and Pakistan, was a reflection of their strategy. The Election Commission did well in ordering Mr Mishra to delete his tweet, and to ban him from campaigning for 48 hours. All candidates and campaigners would be well advised to refrain from introducing the communal dimension in the Delhi elections.