ON the face of it, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to be ahead in the battle for Delhi that votes on February 8. But is Delhi really signed, sealed and delivered to Arvind Kejriwal and AAP? The CVoter opinion poll predicts the AAP getting 55 per cent of the votes in Delhi and if that turns out to be correct, it would be a long journey up, from the 18 per cent vote the party got in Delhi during the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. That was, in fact, the worst vote share of a party that was ruling a particular state where the BJP won the parliamentary battle in 2019. AAP would also remember the experience of snatching defeat from the jaws of apparent victory in Punjab in 2017 and then losing the local body elections in Delhi.
It’s because of these setbacks, plus their own inner split in 2015 — when Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan had to exit — followed by the relentless and vindictive attack at the behest of the BJP on AAP, its Delhi MLAs and funders, that India’s youngest ruling party has learnt the tactic of ‘how not to be a sitting target’.
The technique is simple. Do not engage with identity issues that the BJP wishes to engage with, do not enter any debate involving a Hindu-Muslim binary, do not make personal attacks on the PM. Keep speaking of free electricity, water, schools, mobile health clinics, free transport for women et al— areas where a substantial number of Delhi residents say the AAP government has delivered.
The merry band of men, and some women, who stormed the citadel in 2015 is now transformed into a traditional state party whose once brash leader watches his words carefully. Yes, they are comparatively dull, but the fireworks have gone after being confronted with some sobering realities.
For instance, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, AAP won in just 400 of Delhi’s nearly 14,000 booths or just one per cent of the booths! That’s really a bad performance and AAP has been quiet and purposeful ever since.
Five years ago, Delhi had one of the most thrilling elections in contemporary Indian history when a new party, led by a leader who was seen as a change agent, created history with a record-breaking scale of victory in the Assembly. In that election, the citizens of Delhi were the cadre of AAP and people were volunteering their time in the excitement and hope of the moment. The volunteer force is now depleted as the movement has settled into traditional governance.
The real test, therefore, is whether AAP can match the BJP-RSS cadre, that also has the police force under it. This time, AAP is operating like a conventional party and the candidates would have to make the logistical arrangements to put the booth agents out there on the voting day. AAP also needs to ensure that people are not lulled into complacency by the buzz that the election has already been won by Arvind Kejriwal.
Failing any big disruption, the facts that do appear to be working in favour of AAP are as follows: first, people are voting differently in national and local elections. Second, there is no credible face posited against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Third, the Congress appears to be a non-player, so there is unlikely to be any significant division of the anti-BJP votes. Fourth, the most evocative message can be seen written behind some autorickshaws in Delhi — Bijli ka bill zero/Arvind Kejriwal mera hero (My electricity bill is zero/Kejriwal is my hero). Fifth, in parts of Delhi, the mohalla clinics have become a popular citizen’s resource and some of the government schools have dramatically improved under AAP rule.
But there are unknown factors also at play in Delhi. The Capital was the site of the brutal police action on students of Jamia Millia Islamia who were protesting against the CAA-NRC on December 15. That attack was undoubtedly the trigger for the nationwide protests against the BJP regime.
The process of women sitting down in protest too began in Delhi’s
Shaheen Bagh locality from where an organic movement rages on, entering its second month while women in other parts of India and other localities of Delhi get inspired to follow.
Mostly, the BJP believes that any visible sign of Muslim assertion works to consolidate in their favour. However, the story in Delhi does not seem to be following that pattern and there is the power of truth in the extraordinary sight of thousands of Muslim women sitting in protests, supported by the people belonging to all communities.
In Shaheen Bagh, for instance, a group of Sikh farmers from Punjab have set up langar or community kitchen in an act of solidarity. The concerted attempt to discredit the Shaheen Bagh phenomenon by the BJP and the media loyal to it, suggests they are troubled, but have failed to either polarise or discredit till now.
AAP, the party born in protest, has deliberately stayed away from protest this election season. The BJP first said it was going into the election on the plank of the CAA, but now says it will amplify the message about the PM’s successful schemes. After the last round in 2015, Kejriwal became a politician, Narendra Modi sold that suit with his name all over it and Rahul Gandhi went on a sabbatical. If the BJP loses, it would be the second defeat on the trot after Jharkhand and not a good start to the year.
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