Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with his family and party leaders at the AAP headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)
From not winning a single parliamentary seat in May 2019 to a landslide victory in February 2020 — just nine months later, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) learnt its lessons even as it ran a Modi-like campaign.
The Aam Aadmi Party started doling out freebies/welfare schemes like free electricity, water, transport and pilgrimage etc. The focus was on improvements made in education and health sectors, that is, teacher-student engagements and improving the infrastructure of government schools and also on next-door health centres in the form of mohalla clinics. There were town hall meetings of Arvind Kejriwal where he took questions from the public.
There was a high-glitz campaign focusing on Brand Kejriwal. The AAP focussed on “Brand Kejriwal” with photos, videos, hoardings and slogans, showing him as the aam aadmi and a Dilliwalla. Slogans like “Acche beete panch saal, lage raho Kejriwal” were catchy and gave a clear message to voters.
The image of Kejriwal was transformed from that of a protester/anarchist and a person who fought with everyone, be it Narendra Modi, the lieutenant governor, election commission to a person who believed in governance and deliverance, and, who avoided all controversies, hence deliberately choosing not to speak on the new citizenship law and Shaheen Bagh.
Further, when attacked with words like “terrorist”, he responded by saying: “I am Dilli ka beta”. Like Modi tried to translate all attacks on him into attacks on “Gujarati Asmita” and an attack on the five crore people of Gujarat, Kejriwal tried to convert all abuses against him into insults to Dilli ka beta.
To counter the BJP’s campaign showing Kejriwal as pro-Muslim — using his photos in an Islamic cap, his video where, in his presence, the controversial AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan announced an increase in the salary of imams, and, also to counter the polarisation due to Shaheen Bagh — Kejriwal peddled soft-Hindutva by going to the Hanuman temple and reciting Hanuman Chalisa, repeatedly saying Bharat Mata ki jai and Vande Mataram while concluding his electoral campaign speeches.
Unlike the Kejriwal of the first four-and-a-half years from 2015 to August 2019, who lashed out at Modi repeatedly, this transformed Kejriwal, of post-August 2019, seemed to be fine with the idea of Modi at the Centre and AAP in the state. He repeatedly stated that those who voted for Modi in 2019 elections will be voting for the AAP in February 2020.
The marginalisation of Congress at the state level and its total surrender in the elections helped the AAP. The traditional vote-bank of the Congress which comprises Muslims, Christians and other minorities, jhuggi dwellers, people in resettlement colonies, and, people in unauthorised colonies moved to the AAP. Muslims voted as a bloc for the AAP to defeat the BJP.
Ironically, those who state that the vote for Kejriwal was against the hate politics of BJP had no answers to the fact that Manish Sisodia, AAP’s minister for education in Delhi, won with a margin of 3,000 plus votes; whereas, AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan, an accused in a communal rioting case and also in the midnight assault on the chief secretary of Delhi government, — the senior-most IAS officer in the state, won by over 70,000 votes from Okhla, which is a constituency with substantial Muslim voters.
The big electoral announcement of the BJP, “Jahan jhuggi wahan makaan” (giving houses to all jhuggi dwellers) came too late, and the message could not be communicated to the beneficiaries. The big electoral promise of regularisation of 1,731 unauthorised colonies could also not be converted into votes in favour of the BJP.
Talking about the BJP, the organisational structure was in shambles with no CM face, and no clear strategy to face this clever adversary. Like Modi, Kejriwal also repeatedly harped on the TINA factor. Like Modi in the general elections of 2019, Kejriwal repeatedly exhorted the BJP to announce the name of its CM candidate, and invited the person to debate with him.
The inefficiency or corruption of MCD worked to the disadvantage of BJP. Without a clear vision, the BJP could not milk the leverage of having all seven MPs and running all three MCDs.
Finally, with the entry of Amit Shah, the issue of Shaheen Bagh came into focus. However, this aggressive campaign was too little, too late. Though it resulted in the BJP vote share jumping from 32 per cent in 2015 to 38 per cent in 2020 and an increase in seats from three to eight.
The question, however, remains: Was it a referendum on national issues of Ram Mandir, abrogation of Article 370 and CAA? The answer is a resounding NO. Kejriwal was successful in convincing the voters that this election was about Dilli and Dilliwallas. One of the surveys showed that if today elections were held for Parliament, the BJP will win and Narendra Modi will remain the undisputed leader at the Centre.
Kejriwal cleverly conveyed the message of “Upar Modi, neeche Kejriwal” (Modi at the top/Centre, Kejriwal in Delhi).
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 15, 2020 under the title "Mirror effect". The writer is a lawyer.