AAP's Initiative, BJP's Gear Change, Cong's No Show: How Campaigns Sealed Fate of Parties, Capital


New Delhi: Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal launched his Delhi campaign with an open challenge to the BJP — “Kya apki party mein CM face hein".

During campaign, AAP’s re-iteration of ‘There is no Alternative’ or TINA factor was a camouflage to the underlying yet principal political theme around which the campaign was built.

The AAP campaign, in fact, was crafted on a premise that the BJP would not repeat the mistakes of 2015 when it drafted a rank outsider — Kiran Bedi — against Kejriwal.

During the month long high voltage offensive, Kejriwal beseeched BJP almost daily to spare a CM candidate for a verbal dual. When the challenger was not oblige, it published four short films or spoofs on its twitter handle on potential Delhi Chief Ministers if BJP were to win power in the national capital.

Thus, AAP's repeated prodding to declare the CM nominee may have been aimed largely to force its opponent to fall back upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to carry along the burden of campaign.

No doubt PM Modi has been BJP’s biggest vote-catcher in the last eight years. He was won his party many battles which seemed precariously poised.

However, in the last six years or so, two distinct patterns have emerged whenever BJP takes guard for assembly polls. Amongst the same set of electorate, a) BJP tends to shed top-up votes in assembly elections vis-à-vis Lok Sabha polls; and b) Opposition stands a better chance against BJP if the challenge comes from a non-Congress party led by a credible CM face.

Both conditions are primarily aimed to contextualise electioneering to the locus.

BJP’s dependence on PM Modi as its main vote-catcher in Delhi was used by AAP to drive home the message that the elections in Delhi were not national and were being held to elect a provincial government. That the election was about ‘bijli and pani’. On national issues, the voters had given a clear mandate to the BJP just a few months ago.

But the two-pronged strategy needed a delicate handling. AAP did not make the mistake Congress did in 2019 LS polls by directly attacking the Prime Minister. Instead, it sought to indirectly contextualise the election to the locus — that is Delhi — by seeking to know who the BJP’s CM candidate was.

With AAP setting the agenda in the initial phase of campaigning, BJP had to change gear mid-way in its bid to steer the narrative away from Kejriwal’s comfort zone. Herein, the anti-CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh came in handy. For the first time in Delhi, BJP experimented with strident nationalism laced with vitriolic slogans. PM Modi spoke on development, other leaders delved on developments in Jamia and JNU to mobilise the cadre votes and also retain a section of fence-sitters who voted for the BJP in May 2019.

The other distinct feature of the campaign — both by BJP and AAP — has been their ability to influence the narrative through timely interventions. When police claimed a Shaheen Bagh shooter had links with some AAP leaders, the party was nimble enough to rebut charges by releasing a video statement by the accused’s family. Similarly, Giriraj Singh was quick to tweet the receipt of purchases made by him at a jeweler’s store in Rithala when AAP accused the Union minister of distributing cash for votes.

Even on polling day, BJP lost no time in coordinating a concerted attack on Kejriwal for the latter’s comments seeking women to come out in large numbers and vote.

British communication scientist Andrew Chadwick posits in the prevailing communication environment, power in a continual interactive field is wielded by “those who recognise the importance of time and the circulation of information — when to act quickly, and when to delay, when to devote intensive attention to the pursuit of a goal, when to repeat, when to act alone, and when to coordinate….”.

In this election, Congress — by design or otherwise — neither showed any inclination to intervene; or delay; or coordinate. In the last three elections in Delhi, it has been asking for votes in Sheila Dikshit’s name.

If the electorate comprehensively rejected Congress government in 2013; why would they vote it back to power six years on the same set of issue? Congress’ complete indifference to the campaign can be judged from how it sought to sell its promise of giving unemployment dole to ‘snatak and snakottar’.

That in Sanskritised Hindi means graduates and post-graduates. And that is precisely how its billboards across the city disseminated poll promises! Even hard-core Congress supporters would have had to look up a Hindi-to-English translation dictionary to make sense of it all!

Campaigns in elections matter. In today’s age, digitally enabled campaigns help; but within the framework of political plausibility. Campaigns — legacy or digital — are built around leaderships and issues in a certain political context.

And the party or the leader that succeeds in contextualising the purpose of election to the voter is more likely to eke a favourable outcome.