Delhi Assembly polls: Politics over Shaheen Bagh protests and Manish Sisodia's support to agitators may hand BJP a possible lifeline

  • When the Election Commission announced the Delhi Assembly election schedule, it seemed that the Aam Aadmi Party's slogan 'Achhe beete 5 saal, lage raho Kejriwal' was resonating with voters.

  • However, recently, the shrill anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in Shaheen Bagh seemed to have worked in favour of the BJP.

  • Although Kejriwal has been trying to keep the poll narrative away from the CAA and Shaheen Bagh, a recent statement by Sisodia has changed matters.

Three weeks ago, when the Election Commission announced the Delhi Assembly election schedule, it seemed that the Aam Aadmi Party's slogan "Achhe beete 5 saal, lage raho Kejriwal' was resonating with voters. It was widely believed that the AAP, with its freebie politics and positive publicity, was riding high and that the election result would be a mere formality. The only question seemed to be whether or not the party would repeat its feat of winning 67 out of 70 seats.

On the other hand, BJP workers' morale was low, and the party seemed unable to counter Arvind Kejriwal's campaign blitz. It was feeling the absence of a worthwhile state-level challenger. The Congress was (and still is) nowhere in the picture. That seemed to have made the BJP’s task tougher and, by consequence, the AAP’s task easier.

But in politics, one wrong move by a political party, or even its supporters, has the potential to change the 'hawa'. The shrill anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in Shaheen Bagh seem to have worked in favour of the BJP as campaigning enters the final phase. While Kejriwal still has an advantage, the BJP is fast gaining momentum.

Three things are noteworthy here —

 Delhi Assembly polls: Politics over Shaheen Bagh protests and Manish Sisodias support to agitators may hand BJP a possible lifeline

Protesters raise slogans during a demonstration against the amended Citizenship Act and National Register of Citizens at Shaheen Bagh, in New Delhi. PTI

The first point is that home minister Amit Shah's recent rallies have energised BJP workers. On Sunday, Shah at a rally urged people to “press the (EVM) button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh." He also sought to puncture Kejriwal's much-hyped governance plank.

With Shah's recent rallies, BJP workers now believe that the party is in the fray and can win the election if it fights with vigour. The rally on Sunday gave BJP workers talking points that they could disseminate among the people.

The home minister has been addressing several rallies every day, and has been holding review meetings at night with BJP chief JP Nadda and other senior leaders. Nadda has also been holding review meetings at the mandal or block levels to resolve intra-party conflicts and ego clashes. In this context, communal remarks made in Shaheen Bagh and other protest sites provide more fodder for the BJP's campaign.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has largely been missing from the action, although posters featuring him can be seen across Delhi. Modi has held only one rally till now in Ramlila Maidan, and is expected to hold a few more rallies towards the end of campaigning.

Nevertheless, the issue of Shaheen Bagh has been aggressively picked up by BJP leaders. For instance, at a recent meeting with the Tyagi community in the Rohtas Nagar constituency of north east Delhi, several local leaders spoke about protests that have come up at Shaheen Bagh and other places, and the "ominous messages" emanating from there.

Manoj Sinha, the BJP's in-charge of north east Delhi, further said, "In Uttar Pradesh, the government has started recovering money from rioters and protesters for damage to public property. Do you want similar action to be taken in Delhi? If so, vote for the BJP." Sinha also took on Kejriwal for his slogan "Achhe beete 5 saal, lage raho Kejriwal", and called the Delhi chief minister a "dapor shankh" (loudmouth). However, Sinha got the loudest response from the crowd when he castigated the Shaheen Bagh protesters.

The second reason that gives the BJP hope is the statement by AAP's second-in-command Manish Sisodia that he stands with the people of Shaheen Bagh. The BJP is likely to try and cash in on this statement.

Third, JNU student and one of the organisers of the Shaheen Bagh protest, Sharjeel Imam was seen on video recently talking about how protesters can cut off Assam from the rest of India for at least a few months. This speech has polarised voters, and is working against the AAP.

Although Kejriwal has been trying to keep the poll narrative away from the CAA and Shaheen Bagh, the recent statement by Sisodia has changed matters. It has dragged the AAP into the narrative that the BJP is building. There may now be a twist to the Delhi elections.

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Updated Date: Jan 29, 2020 19:29:46 IST