Delhi elected Arvind Kejriwal as its Chief Minister for the third time in a row with a thumping victory which was beyond anyone’s comprehension till the votes were counted on February 11. The ruling AAM Aadmi Party (AAP) not just bucked the anti-incumbency factor but turned governance into a referendum, convincing the voter to elect it on its performance in power -something that ruling parties normally try to avoid.
Kejriwal’s election strategy succeeded with bang, earning his party 62 out of the 70 seats in Delhi Assembly, a whopping number by any stretch of imagination. It was, indeed, a difficult election for Kejriwal. The BJP had pitched its politics of polarisation to a new high, brazenly trying to turn elections into a sort of a Hindu-Muslim war. The peaceful Muslim women’s agitation going on in Shaheen Bagh area of Delhi was given an image of a hidden Pakistan within Delhi.
The top BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, gave blatantly communal statements targeting Muslims to polarise Hindus. But Delhi trumped BJP’s hate politics and overwhelmingly opted for Kejriwal who consistently and persistently sought votes on his performance in power. But was Delhi mandate just the mandate for governance as it is being billed by a section of media now? It will be simplistic to pin down Delhi election results only to any one factor. Indeed, bijli-pani did the trick for AAP among the poor who has been his core constituency in the last two elections. But Delhi has a huge educated and urban middle class constituency which, too, pitched for Kejriwal. Besides, Muslims also voted overwhelmingly for the AAP.
Both these constituencies largely voted to defeat the BJP in Delhi for which the Hindutva brigade is itself responsible.
The BJP turned Delhi elections into a referendum on the CAA-NPR-NRC agenda. But a large number of Delhi voters took this kind of a shrill campaign not just as communal but as an anti-Constitution action directed at diluting Indian secular ethos. The BJP’s gameplan, in fact, generated a reverse polarisation leading to consolidation of anti-BJP votes in Delhi. Their priority was to defeat BJP and they were not voting for the AAP on its performance.
There were three strands of this kind of voters which voted for the AAP. First, Muslims. Their singular aim was to halt the BJP march and express their dissent against the CAA/NRC. The second group consisted of a huge number of liberals who again voted against the BJP as they perceived it as a threat to Indian secular polity. The third strand was that of the Leftists who are dedicated anti-BJP voters but went out in big numbers to vote for Kejriwal this time because they were appalled with attacks on JNU and the urban Naxal rhetoric. These three groups gave a big push to Arvind Kejriwal.
The Congress top leadership refused to throw its hat into the electoral ring thus giving a nudge to anti-Modi polarisation. Delhi polls in this sense could be a model for pooling anti-BJP votes to defeat Hindutva politics. It will surely not be easy to replicate Delhi across the country. But it can surely be attempted if opposition parties are willing to behave in national interest rather than self-interest as the Congress did in Delhi.