The landslide mandate for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly elections, 2020 is a layered one. Yet, there is no point denying that Delhites have spoken in no ambiguous terms. They have prioritised delivery on electoral promises and a government’s performance and given a cold shoulder to the shrill, communally polarising rhetoric of the BJP. In fact, the BJP has lost all the 13 seats where they focussed on hate speech.
The BJP campaign strategists, mainly Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, tried their level best, assisted by their army of 375 MPs, Union ministers and chief ministers of BJP-ruled states across the land, to make the AAP fight the contest on the BJP’s terms. The BJP fought the Delhi election purely on the refrain of muscular nationalism where abrogation of Article 370, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) took the centre-stage.
Yes, they also mentioned freebies in their manifesto like free power, atta at Rs 2 a kg, free scooty, bicycles and more. A mid-level BJP functionary in the know of things spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Though they included all these, you did not hear the leaders or the candidates letting people know of the schemes proposed. Do you know why? Because both
Modi and Shah had promised the moon to the electorate in 2014 and very little has happened for the real. They did not have the option to showcase the merit of the schemes. Muscular nationalism was the only option,” he said.
It makes sense. If the BJP played the development card like the party had done in 2014, people would have asked the leaders as to the whereabouts of the 100 smart cities. They would have asked pointed questions about the fate of Make in India when factories are shutting down or retrenching people. They would have enquired about the promised 2 crore jobs per annum when India is battling with its biggest unemployment crisis in 45 years.
So the only option for the BJP was to go for a polarising campaign, discrediting the anti-CAA/NRC protesters at Shaheen Bagh as hired people via dissemination of fake news, exhorting people to shoot them and even going to the ridiculous extent of calling Kejriwal a terrorist. Modi said that the people who were protesting against CAA/NRC could be identified by their clothes. Shah followed up by an equally crass, if not more, one, saying, “Press the button on the electoral voting machines with such force that entire Shaheen Bagh feels the electric shock.” Minister of State, Finance, Anurag Thakur, gave provocative and violent slogans from the dais, calling upon people to shoot ‘traitors’ down. \
It was not mere rhetoric. The Delhi Police’s brutal crackdowns on Jamia Millia Islamia and that of UP Police on Aligarh Muslim Univerity were also a part of the show. The Yogi Adityanath government’s treatment of anti-NRC/CAA protesters in UP where as many as 25 were killed was also a part of the series of dog whistles aimed to fan communal polarisation.
Gunmen showed up in Jamia-Shaheen Bagh area, firing shots at protesters in which one was injured after Anurag Thakur’s sloganeering act. The BJP was pushing the limits of Kejriwal to utter that one bit which would have brought the latter to the pitch on which Modi and Shah are master bowlers.
But the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP remained closely rooted to their pitch and refused to bat on the one prepared by the BJP. They purely stressed on delivery on promises, good governance and regular sadak-bijli-paani issues.
While some may find the AAP’s skirting around the CAA-NRC issue a bit problematic, it can’t be denied that Kejriwal refused to play Modi and Shah’s game and in the process beat the duo.
What is undeniable is that Kejriwal’s campaign resonated with the people of Delhi more than the communal high-octane campaign of the BJP.
However, this victory no way proves that the days of Hindutva politics are over. The election was fought on two different planks by the AAP and the BJP and there was no convergence. In fact, in spite of the low number of seats, the BJP’s vote share in Delhi Assembly elections rose to 38.5 per cent from 32 per cent in the 2015 Assembly elections.
However, as the BJP’s polarising tactics became very evident, a lot of voters slowly shifted towards the AAP. In fact, a sort of counter-polarisation took place. It led to a consolidation of anti-BJP votes in favour of the AAP.
Abrar Hussein is one such voter from Okhla. “When the campaign started, I was undecided who to vote for and was thinking of the Congress too. But towards the end, I realised that the AAP was in a better situation to challenge the BJP,” he said
Amar Singh Dahiya is a liberal and an established businessman in South Delhi. He too voted for the AAP though his family has always supported the Congress. “The Sheila Dixit government changed the face of Delhi. But this time, only the AAP had a realistic chance of keeping the BJP out. All seven votes of my family went to the AAP,” he told National Herald.
So said a Left, radical scholar and a professor at JNU. “I know a lot of my friends who have done the same,” he quipped.
This combination of die-hard AAP supporters, liberals, Muslims, Dalits and even the Left translated into a landslide victory for the AAP. Some political observers have opined that the Congress went in for a low-key campaign so as to not let a major division in the anti-BJP votes allowing the saffron party to run away with victory.
This Delhi election should come as a big lesson for the BJP as to the limitations of the polarising power of hate speech.
Tajinder Bagga, the BJP’s Hari Nagar candidate had repeatedly been targeting Shaheen Bagh protesters and had warned of a “surgical strike” against the anti-CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh on February 11. Bagga lost to AAP’s Raj Kumari Dhillon by a margin of 19,642 votes.
At Rithala, where MoS finance, Anurag Thakur, had shouted: “desh ke gaddaron ko” to which the crowd responded, “goli maro sa*** ko” (shoot down the traitors), BJP’s Manish Chaudhary lost to AAP’s Mohinder Goyal by 13,873 votes.
“On 8th February there will be a contest between India and Pakistan on the streets of Delhi,” BJP’s Kapil Mishra had tweeted on January 23. He lost Model Town to AAP’s Akhilesh Pati Tripathi by 11,113 votes.
Amit Shah had urged voters to “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh” at Babarpur. Well, BJP’s Naresh Gaur lost to AAP’s Gopal Rai by a whopping 27,911 votes.
BJP MP Parvesh Verma from West Delhi Lok Sabha constituency had called Shaheen Bagh protesters ‘rapists and murderers’. The BJP lost all the ten Assembly seats in the Lok Sabha constituency.
People of not just Delhi but across India are waking up and smelling the coffee. They see the unfulfilled promises, the mountain of lies, the declining economy, the country’s social fabric in tatters, the irritating hate speech re-run, etc. They have shown that they are capable of separating the wheat from the chaff as the BJP has lost all seven state elections in the last 15 months.
All Opposition parties should take a lesson from the Delhi election results and the voting trend. If Opposition votes can go into a common pool, there should be no reason why the parties can’t unite and present a formidable, secular, progressive front that the BJP will find very difficult to combat.