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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  Opinion | AAP’s governance record beats BJP’s nationalism pitch

Opinion | AAP’s governance record beats BJP’s nationalism pitch

The Delhi poll was a referendum on Kejriwal’s freebies model of governance, and not on CAA

Photo: ANIPremium
Photo: ANI

The elections in Delhi witnessed one of the most fierce and acerbic state electoral competitions between the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its main challenger, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was a high-stakes electoral contest for both the parties, as AAP, while the saffron party after major setbacks in state elections was desperate in arresting its dissipating political hegemony. AAP contested the elections on its public governance and patronising policies paradigm, while the BJP’s electoral discourse was a heady mix of national and local issues like construction of Ram temple, abrogation of Article 370, Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, and legalizing unauthorized colonies in the National Capital Region. The Congress poll plank focussed on the development story of Delhi during Sheila Dikshit’s tenure with the promise of bringing it back to its path of growth and glory.

The opinion polls conducted before the promulgation of CAA indicated that AAP was in pole position, but the anti-CAA flashpoints in Delhi provided the BJP a political optic to stop Kejriwal’s juggernaut. The election results reveal that AAP’s governance record triumphed over BJP’s nationalism pitch, as it received yet another landslide mandate. AAP broomed the Delhi elections by winning 62 out of 70 seats with six out of 10 Delhi citizens reposing faith in the party’s broom symbol. The BJP could only improve its seat tally from 3 in the 2015 elections to 8 with a significant increase in its vote share. The Congress’ quest for regaining Delhi proved to be a damp squib as it once again scored a nought.

The main reasons for AAP winning a resounding victory despite stiff opposition from the BJP include: one, the humiliating defeat of AAP in the 2019 general elections was a turning point as it pulled up its socks and went all out to complete its poll promises made in 2015 elections like upscaling of school infrastructure, opening mohalla clinics, installation of CCTVs and free Wi-Fi for citizens. It also rolled out new freebies like free bus rides for women, pilgrimages for senior citizens, which combined with free electricity and water made it the first choice party in Delhi. Two, AAP succeeded in creating the poll narrative as an election referendum on Kejriwal’s charismatic leadership and performance. The party’s strategy of ‘Kejriwal versus Who’ binary clicked and the failure of BJP and the Congress in not naming a CM face drove non-committed voters into AAP’s fold. The factionalism and lack of credible leadership in the local units of the saffron party and the Congress further bolstered the cause of AAP. Third, the polemical tirades against anti-CAA and Shaheen Bagh protesters in Delhi by young guns of the saffron party to polarise the electorate on religious fault lines severely backfired as it caused counter polarization among the Muslim community. The citizens of Delhi understood the vote catching design of the vitriolic communal rants and instead voted for the AAP. Finally, the low decibel and self defeatist poll propaganda by the Congress was electorally beneficial for the AAP. The grand old party seems to have tactically retreated from the contest midway to avoid splitting of anti-BJP votes.

The Delhi election verdict sends out a loud and clear message to all the three political dispensations about their future. The spectacular victory of AAP provides it a breathing space and a second chance to recalibrate itself as an alternative force in Indian politics. It needs to broaden its leadership base and expand its political wings or else it would be restricted to Delhi and become a stand-alone regional party like several others in India. The election exposed the limitations of BJP’s polarization politics, lack of second-rung leaders with political appeal and absence of local leadership. The absence of Modi from the Delhi elections is a testimony that the saffron party banks on his charismatic persona to win or lose elections graciously. The failure of the Congress to open its account in Delhi reveals that the party is still in a comatose and the victories in MP and Rajasthan were more by default than political design.

The result will have a limited impact on national politics as assembly polls in Delhi are symbolic, as it is does not fully mirror the all-India opinion. The election was a referendum on Kejriwal’s freebies model of governance and not on CAA and the ongoing agitations against it in Delhi and NCR. The overwhelming endorsement of AAP template of governance maybe replicated by other states in India, but more freebies would give a fillip to in-migration in Delhi, which is already in a choking mode due to population boom and natural resources bursting at the seams.

Praveen Rai is a political analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

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Published: 12 Feb 2020, 12:33 AM IST
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