Bawana by-election: More than an AAP victory, result highlights BJP’s failed strategy and misplaced optimism
Riding high on a series of victories, especially the by-election to the Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency in Delhi and MCD elections, BJP’s hyperbole failed to cut ice with Bawana voters
After his ambitious national runs that almost always ended in disaster, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal seems to have finally learnt his lesson. And AAP’s victory in Bawana by-election by a record margin of 24,052 votes is a proof of that.
Kejriwal is back to the grassroots that catapulted him to power in 2015. He’s back to his old strategy and his greatest strength — connecting with people, especially the weaker sections and voters of rural areas, unrecognised colonies, and slum dwellers.
But, more importantly, the Bawana by-poll result underscores BJP’s failure of strategy and misplaced optimism.
Riding high on a series of victories, especially the by-election to the Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency in Delhi and the elections to the Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCD), BJP’s hyperbole failed to cut ice with Bawana voters.
Why did BJP fail to crack the Bawana seat?
For BJP's Delhi unit, winning Bawana seat was important as well as challenging, because it had to keep pace with the spreading dominance of the party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in other parts of the country.
In an astute move, the Delhi BJP fielded ex-AAP MLA Ved Prakash, who had quit AAP just before the MCD elections. Following its impressive victory in the MCD elections, the BJP was confident that its strategy of welcoming Opposition rebels in its fold and rewarding them with election tickets would pay dividends.
But, it didn’t. In fact, it badly backfired. Somehow, BJP managed to end up in the second spot — during the initial rounds of counting, Congress was in the second position — in Bawana, thereby saving itself some acute embarrassment.
"AAP’s victory has proved that the voters of Bawana have rejected BJP’s strategy of giving tickets to deserters and win. The message is clear from the people of Bawana — 'if you are a detractor, we won’t accept you'. The strategy applied by BJP has miserably failed," said Saurabh Bharadwaj, AAP’s Delhi secretary and MLA, after the announcement of the result.
Keeping an eye on the Purvanchali voters, who account for almost 35 percent of the total electorate in Bawana, Delhi BJP Manoj Tiwari was placed at the forefront of the battle to woo the segment.
Here too, BJP failed to anticipate the growing acceptance of AAP in the unrecognised colonies and JJ clusters, where a large number of residents belong to Purvanchal.
"Many Purvanchali voters no doubt voted in the favour of BJP, but not all. Considering the body of developmental work done by Kejriwal in this area, a large section voted in the favour of AAP. Instead of favouring regionalism, they chose to go for the development of the area," Sivanand, a resident of one of the unorganised colonies said.
How AAP strategically countered BJP?
Learning a lesson from its past, AAP fielded Ram Chander, a candidate who had never won any election before. He had contested the last election as a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate. During Rajouri Garden by-election, AAP had lost because the voters rejected the party for its decision to allow the then-sitting MLA Jarnail Singh to quit the seat and contest the Punjab election.
During its campaigning in Bawana, AAP played up the 'bhagora' (deserter) factor against BJP. Ultimately, Bawana voters rejected the 'detractor' and BJP candidate Prakash.
Bawana seat is a reserved seat (Scheduled Caste), with a large number of Dalit voters. The AAP succeeded in playing up BJP’s presumptive 'anti-Dalit' image in its favour. Even in the past, this segment of voters had proved to be bankable for AAP.
Besides, apart from its senior leaders, both Kejriwal and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia virtually camped in Bawana to oversee both development work as well as an election strategy.
Contrary to his 'anti-Narendra Modi', 'anti-BJP' image and criticisms, Kejriwal maintained a stoic silence and restrained communication, ever since the MCD result was announced. Abandoning his strategy of attacking Modi, Kejriwal single-pointedly focussed on carrying out the development of the area. An internal post-poll survey by the Pradesh Congress Committee also underlined this fact and mentioned that this would make AAP a winner.
Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari’s 'Purvanchali' identity failed to win all the Purvanchali voters, as AAP emphasised on 'development for all the residents of Bawana'.
Out of the six wards in Bawana, BJP had won five in the MCD election. Immediately, after the MCD polls, AAP had set an agenda of bringing development in the unorganised colonies, JJ clusters, villages, etc. The focus was on improving the long-pending civic problems of these areas. This helped the party to reconnect with its grassroots voters.
Last but not the least, AAP’s relentless demand for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was accepted and all the EVMs used in the Bawana by-election were equipped with VVPAT.
"The party adopted a focussed approach towards development works in JJ clusters, unorganised colonies, villages and for the poor. This victory is a result of the voters' faith in us who have realised that it’s only AAP that can serve them better than any other party. Also, the people of this reserved constituency rejected BJP for its ‘anti-Dalit’ image. Use of VVPAT in the EVMs used in Bawana by-election has also highlighted the transparency in the electoral process, for which we’ve been demanding since Uttar Pradesh election,” added Bharadwaj, who has been on the forefront of demanding for paper audit trail system in the electoral process.
A post-poll internal survey conducted by the Pradesh Congress Committee had predicted AAP’s victory in the Bawana by-election. The survey stated that AAP's gaining margin over Congress and BJP would be due to the development work carried out by the Delhi government in the unrecognised colonies and villages in Bawana.
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