Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party has decimated the opposition in the Delhi Assembly elections. He has been returned to power in 2020, with a thumping majority, near close to his 67:3 triumph against BJP, in 2015. The Congressmen complained, “We reject the Exit Polls. They are manufactured. We have ground reports which suggest that the results will be a stunning reversal of Exit Polls and victors may have started celebrating too early”. Well the Gandhi dynasty led @INC has been swamped by a Tsunami. Scoring a duck, and failed to open their account, as in 2015. It could not get any worse for the leadership and the so called high command. If the May 2019 general elections was a disaster, 2020 has begun ominously worse.
Be that as it may, Modi/Shah/Manoj Tiwari/BJP have suffered a drubbing, possibly worse than in 2015, even if they may have marginally improved on their score of 3 in 2015. BJP has been in power in the Centre, since 2014. They came back with a huge majority, 303 of their own, sweeping all 7 Lok Sabha seats in Delhi. Election Commission and Police, though independent entities, in India, are part of their administration. Let us be realistic, they are not all that autonomous as they ought to be. Despite such humongous advantages, it has been a knockout winner for AAP and BJP is down in Delhi though not out in India. An unmitigated downfall notwithstanding then bluster and bravado from the ruling dispensation at centre.
BJP can offer explanations like DMK always did in Tamil Nadu, whenever they were trumped by MG Ramachandran or Madam Jayalalitha. “Our vote share has improved bigly and it is only ‘the first past the post’ system that has tripped us.” Like DMK, BJP can console itself over the vote share or the last mile flourish in the campaigning, since Republic Day, by tucking into emotive issues and pegging big on the nationalism debate.
Truth to tell, the still fledgling AAP has trounced the political majors and by what a margin! That sends a loud message. The voters do matter. They cannot be taken for granted. The little man and woman with the little finger in the election booth, shall always have the last word. He/she quietly speaks through the EVM button, pressing it hard and hard enough to shake the losers to their roots. And EVM rigging ghost has also been buried for good, until it is resurrected by the perennial naysayers, ignoring the empirical data.
Arvind Kejriwal fought the battle all by himself. He was a lone ranger against his opponents from the big league of BJP and Congress. But he has stood tall and is laughing all the way to the Secretariat, because he had the voter and the people on his side. Give the devil its due. He was smart in not attacking Narendra Modi by name or his position, unlike Rahul Gandhi, whose visceral hatred for Modi, crossed all parliamentary borders, by a mile. Kejriwal realised, after the first half of his term since 2015, that Pan India, Modi had no challenger. It would be foolhardy to take Modi on in the Delhi Assembly polls.
That made it difficult for BJP to challenge the challenger, who was not fighting their supremo. That led to the Modi minions calling names of Kejriwal, which endeared him more to the voters. While BJP inevitably was sucked into emotive issues, having been out of power in Delhi for 22 long years, the desperation showed. The local leadership of BJP was no match for Kejriwal’s jhuggi army seeking votes on sadak, bijli and paani (roads, electricity and water), back to the basics routine.
AAP cleverly conceded the emotive and nationalist space to BJP and Modi. It chose not to tangle with them on that count. Instead, AAP was focused on the kitchen table issues to the Aam Aadmi. Electricity concessions enabled the voters to have more in the purse and free metro rides granted to womenfolk was a huge hit.
After the Joint Action against Corruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare, Kejriwal had already appropriated the space to himself akin to Donald Trump’s base, with unwavering support. The jhuggi base in Delhi is huge, constituting a powerful vote bank, which the Congress relied on in decades gone, and now Kejriwal has simply swallowed the voter base, in one fell swoop by pandering to their daily needs such as water supply at their door step. And the regularisation of several housing colonies came in as a timely booster.
Kejriwal had popular support where the votes mattered. Modi had populist appeal which did not sway the Aam Aadmi, as emotive appeals had a limit to their remit. BJP must now be fully alive and aware that Modi juggernaut with a Pan India construct, has its limitations, at the local or state level. BJP would be fooling themselves if they were to brag, that if Lok Sabha elections were held in Delhi in 2020, they would still sweep all 7 again. Maybe true. But that means little to the losers on BJP’s side. They have to still lick their wounds for another 5 years and that is a long time in politics. Delhi, where the central government reign from, is lost to AAP, a second time. And that is no mean loss of face.
Both the major political parties have their task cut out. Congress, needs a rebirth and unless they are delivered from the dynastic control, a turnaround seems a lost cause. And without the dynastic apron strings, the Congressmen may be a rudderless ship with lots of holes on a hostile sea. BJP, for its part, cannot feel elated at the Congress’ loss and thump their 56” chest that after all they won 92% of the direct contests with Congress in May 2019. That means little, if BJP keeps losing State after State, like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand, and Maharashtra too. BJP has a lot to be worried about and the Delhi debacle could well be a wakeup call to them to pivot from issues political and social, to issues which pertain to the economy stupid. In the meanwhile, Arvind Kejriwal has shown the way to fight the major political parties. Get your head down and work on the simplest of things as Sadak, Bijli, Paani, which alone matter to the voter, and try to win the perception battle by letting the others attack, than fall into the trap of emotive issues. A huge lesson for all political comers in 2020.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan-Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)