How Kejriwal’s strategy won him Delhi

He skirted around Shaheen Bagh and stuck to performance. He also played the local boy card to the hilt

Photo credit- Vipin
Photo credit- Vipin
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KV Lakshmana

All the Modi-Shah’s men, ministers, chief ministers, MPs and leaders could not put a BJP leader on the Delhi Chief Minister’s chair, despite their high-decibel, high-octane campaign for the Delhi Assembly elections that were swept by Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Admi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal.

Brushing aside the BJP’s super surcharged and divisive campaign, Arvind Kejriwal won the decisive mandate to run the Delhi government for a third successive term, and in the process, presented to the nation, the Kejriwal model of governance to power a successful positive, people-oriented election campaign.

The victory of Kejriwal is nothing less than spectacular, coming as it did against a very formidable opponent with immense firepower. It is seen as the victory of performance over polarisation, on which the BJP campaign seemed to be focussed with its Shaheen Bagh issue and several distasteful statements issued by many of its leaders.

The rout of the BJP only goes to show that the Delhi voters rejected the tone and tenor of the slogans like ‘Goli maro’, etc.

The BJP carried out a hate campaign and pitted Hindus against Muslims. But it is a defeat of that campaign,” said Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister after his victory.

In its victory and post victory, the AAP has tried to demolish the BJP’s monopoly over Hinduism and patriotism and nationalism. After the victory of self and his party, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal went on a roadshow to the Hanuman Mandir, to thank Lord Hanuman who he said had blessed the AAP.

The final score line of the AAP (63) - BJP (7) does not reflect the tough, nail biting battle, that was fought in many booths at the vote counting centres.

The BJP totted up an overall 38.5 per cent vote share in Delhi, clearly much better than it did in the 2015 Assembly elections, but it still was far behind the vote share of the AAP that remained more or less unchanged at 54 per cent. And this gap tamed the famed and feared Modi-Shah election winning juggernaut.

But, a statutory warning: If the polling for Lok Sabha is held today, chances are the voters may elect Modi and the BJP was the consensus of pollsters and analysts.

The reasons for the defeat of the BJP in the Delhi Assembly elections, political analysts say, are many. But principally it was the BJP’s inability to change its tactics to suit the specific needs of the Delhi Assembly polls that put paid to its efforts. Delhi has a different character, different issues and perceptions than other states.

Ever since Gujarat Assembly elections, there has been a trend in the country that states have been voting for a different party in the state and another one for the Centre. The BJP seems not to have factored this in its election strategy, felt Professor Sandeep Shastri, Pro Vice Chancellor of the Bangalore-based Jain University. He said that the BJP should have focused on state issues rather than national issues. The voters, who had just voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha general elections, were clearly in no mood to give the vote to the BJP again on the same issues—nationalism, India-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim, etc, he added. Moreover, their campaign revolved around its national leaders and not state level ones and there was no CM face, Prof Shastri said.

The BJP campaign was aggressively divisive, which though may have increased its vote share, was not enough to counter the AAP, which retained its vote share. The BJP lost because of the poor performance of the Congress (which prevented a split in anti-BJP vote) and also because the BJP could not counter the perception that the AAP government had delivered good governance, Professor Shastri said.

Clearly, Kejriwal based his strategy on his governance delivery model under which all the mohalla clinics and good government schools were visibly showing results. And a spate of freebies, in the form of free electricity and water, and free bus rides to women, did win over the hearts of the people.

Prof Mahesh Rangarajan, political analyst, said the AAP victory was the reward for five years of good governance and delivery mechanism that seemed to work on the ground. Good quality education in government schools, beds in private hospitals, mohalla clinics (affordable and free health care) are the calling cards of the AAP government.

Especially at a time of economic slowdown, these are valued more by the people and more so if done by a government that has little or no powers. What is not known widely is that the financial situation of the Delhi government is very good, Prof Rangarajan said.

The one who defines the electoral terrain wins the day. It was the AAP that set the terrain with its development agenda and the BJP initially played on this pitch. But when it sensed it was not working to its satisfaction and changed its track and launched an aggressively divisive campaign. The BJP tried to define the terrain, but could not catch up with the AAP that was way ahead.

Still, the BJP’s performance in terms of vote share is pretty good, he said.

But Kejriwal on the other hand with his innovative governance model has achieved success, like many others in different countries across the world have done.

Over and above building a positive perception leading to a strong pro-incumbency, Kejriwal played a very smart political game, along with an image makeover as a mature, sincere person radiating energy and working for the people. If Kejriwal’s campaign, aided by the presence and ideas of poll strategist Prashant Kishor, worked magic for him, the vitriolic campaign unleashed by the entire BJP leadership failed to get the blessings of the Delhi electorate.

All this and more worked for Kejriwal and AAP – it won over 62 seats out of the total 70 with the BJP a distant second at 8 seats. The Congress, by its presence in the fray did not damage the AAP to the extent BJP thought it would, and added to the overall BJP defeat.

When it came to Kejriwal and his strategy for victory, he pinched a few pages from the copybook of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and Kejriwal has shown how imitation can be profitable in politics in an election that he managed to pit performance against polarisation.

In style, substance and strategy of electioneering, Kejriwal aped Modi and copied the template of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and stumped the BJP, deflating its campaign. And more important, he refused to be drawn into the Hindu-Muslim trap set by the BJP. This itself robbed the BJP of its potent poll issue.

Kejriwal also waded into Hindu espousing temple hops by his Hanuman temple visit and publicly chanted Hanuman Chalisa, to combat the BJP’s Hindutva campaign and sent out a strong message that the BJP was not the sole representative of the Hinduism as it wanted the people to believe. The BJP did not do itself any favour by running a negative campaign against Kejriwal for desecrating the Hanuman temple.

Kejriwal responded by playing out the hurt victim card, blasting the BJP for its criticism of his temple visit. It was something like what Modi did with the Chaiwala jibe of the Congress in the 2014 General Election.

Basically, Kejriwal adopted a development plus Hindutva minus hatred formula, something that Rahul Gandhi appeared to favour in the run up to the Gujarat Assembly election and gave the BJP a big scare. Like Modi, Kejriwal also had a publicised blessing seeking meeting with his mother, before starting his poll campaign.

In itself, beating the mighty Modi-Shah election machine is a very significant achievement for a person who joined politics just a few years ago. And this after the AAP was blanked out in all the Assembly segments in the Lok Sabha polls eight months ago that the BJP swept. The BJP had swept 65 Assembly segments and the Congress had led in five segments.

With this sweep, Kejriwal has shown to the rest of the Opposition parties on how to fight an election and generate a strong pro-incumbency with his governance delivery model. On how to target freebies – free electricity, water, and free bus rides for women in city transport buses – that reached the intended beneficiaries, the lower and lower middle-class voters. And prove that delivery of good governance can win you elections.

Just like Modi was the beneficiary of Ujwala scheme and farmer welfare programmes in the 2019 General Election, Kejriwal ensured that he communicated to the voters all the good things he had done – and went to the people with his report card. Things he promised, that he delivered and admitting to people that others were work in progress that he would fulfil if he got another chance.

In substance and style of campaigning too, Kejriwal did what Modi did – taking potshots at the opposition of not having a CM candidate against him. Kejriwal and the AAP lampooned the BJP for its failure to name a CM candidate, like the BJP leaders who kept taunting the opposition to name their PM candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Another campaign strategy that Kejriwal adopted was to make the election all about himself, just like Modi turned the Lok Sabha General Election into an only Modi affair. Just like Modi said every vote for BJP would come directly to him, Kejriwal reminded the voters of Delhi that every vote for AAP MLA candidate was a vote for him.

The presence of poll strategist Prashant Kishor has only bolstered the already smart campaign that Kejriwal had planned. One thing that Kejriwal avoided was to attack Prime Minister Modi. In fact, the Delhi Chief Minister had supported Article 370 abrogation and AAP MPS had voted for CAA in Parliament.

Kejriwal also steered clear of the Shaheen Bagh protests, and this for sure to blunt the BJP campaign on the nationalism issue. The Delhi Chief Minister refused to get distracted from the issues of the people - Bijli, sadak, pani, and development in general.

His campaign was focussed on the development and on his track record of work – schools, drinking water, sanitation, transport services, and promises to do more work in the next term. Kejriwal also played the role of the local boy to the hilt.

In what had become an interesting battle, the Congress appeared to have logged out of the contest, as the BJP leaders seemed to indicate. Save for the few rallies by Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi, not many senior Congress leaders could be seen campaigning.

The Congress ended up with a mere 4 per cent vote share, much to the disappointment of the BJP, which might have banked heavily on the good performance of the Congress to deliver Delhi to it. The Congress clearly was not interested in helping the BJP out any which way.

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