Modi’s Veiled Message, Kejriwal and Cong's Political Divide: How Ramlila Set Stage for Delhi Polls​

Something very unusual happened during the Dusshera celebrations in the national capital this year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unlike his predecessors, chose the outskirts of the national Capital over the Ramlila (ballad on life of Ram, the king of Ayodhya) celebrations in the walled city for Ravan Dahan (annihilating the demon).

Not that the traditional Ramlilas did not take place in the walled city. There were three in the Lal Qila grounds and the oldest in the neigbouring Ramlila grounds near Delhi Gate. With time these Ramlilas have come to be affiliate of one political party or the other, thus we had Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on one stage and the Congress leadership on the other.

The Prime Minister chose not to be part of the ‘political divide’ and decided to be part of a celebration in the outskirts, albeit accompanied by his party colleagues Parvesh Verma, a local MP, and Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari. The message which the Prime Minister tried giving by bringing the two leaders, rivals in the faction-ridden Delhi BJP, together was to fight the upcoming assembly polls in the city unitedly.

Despite having performed incredibly well in the Lok Sabha elections by winning all the seven seats, the BJP cannot sit at ease. During the Lok Sabha polls, its vote share rose to an unprecedented 56 per cent. The last time BJP got votes somewhere close to the 50 per cent mark in Delhi was during the 1993 Vidhan Sabha polls. Then, under the leadership of a redoubtable Madanlal Khurana and at the peak of Ram Janmabhoomi movement, it had polled around 47 per cent votes.

Thereinafter the demography of the city changed, reducing the following of Delhi BJP to the traditional supporters belonging to the Vaishya and Punjabi communities. Whereas the Congress, under the leadership of Sheila Dikshit, evolved for itself a more metropolitan vote bank -- a particularly large chunk of the fast emerging Purvanchal population.

Delhi today has a population of 29.5 million and the migrants constitute nearly 47 per cent of it. Although the migrants comprise of people from all parts of the country, those who have altered the political grammar of the state are primarily from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Given the drubbing it got in the last assembly polls in 2015, the BJP immediately went for wooing the Purvanchal voters by appointing Bhojpuri singer and actor Manoj Tiwari as its Delhi unit president. Migrant voters during the 2013 and 2015 assembly polls had gone with the Aam Aadmi Party, which strategised well in giving tickets to a large number of Purvanchalis and Uttarakhandis, who successfully delivered the seats, especially those in the economically backward unauthorised colonies.

Let’s come to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the upcoming assembly polls, which are less than four months away. Given the recent developments, there could be a substantial change in the voting pattern. The happenings of the past two months, especially the deaths of former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and former Union Minister Arun Jaitley has considerably altered the scenario.

Dikshit, who was reappointed Delhi Congress president earlier this year, had managed to revive the fortunes of the party in the last Lok Sabha polls, coming second to the BJP and pushing the ruling AAP to the third position. However, following her sudden death, the party once again seems to be sinking into a bottomless pit with her successor yet to be nominated and All India Congress Committee (AICC) observer PC Chacko adding to the mess and confusion.

Smelling an opportunity in the vacuum created by Dikshit’ death, the AAP leadership has pushed ahead aggressively to revive its fortunes. It’s worth finding out what’s making AAP’s revival possible despite its more than stated departure from the idealism on which the party was originally founded.

If Arvind Kejriwal and his party truly should get an award, it’s not for their ‘self-proclaimed’ performance in the field of education and health but for communication and public relations skills. The whole campaign of the Aam Admi Party, as in 2013 and 2015, is once again being carefully crafted to effectively communicate with people through various forums and tools and neutralise the political adversary through sheer use of appropriate words and symbols.

The flurry of announcements of public welfare schemes, ostensibly aimed at making living in Delhi almost free of cost, is adding to Kejriwal’s profile of pro-people leader especially in the absence of any counter from the local leadership of either the Congress or the BJP. While the former is leaderless, the latter, in the absence of a mentor like Jaitley, is unable to draw a roadmap to counter AAP’s revival.

The advertisement blitzkrieg by the AAP government in the newspapers and on the roadside hoardings is aimed at appropriating everything good and blaming everything wrong on the rivals. Such claims need strong counters both in the field and also in the media. Allowing Kejriwal’s claims go uncontested is handing him advantage for the upcoming polls.

Needless to say that a defeat for the BJP at the hands of AAP in Delhi, as in 2015, has the potential to leave Modi-Shah leadership with a bloodied nose and Kejriwal with a bright halo and an elixir for his political career.

(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst.)