Delhi polls about deliverability, not ideologies; polarising voters in response to AAP's development-centric pitch may not work for BJP
Brand Arvind Kejriwal has established direct and firm contact with Delhi voters' necessities and made the practice of politics a lot more ordinary; today, he appeals to even those voters who see no alternative to Narendra Modi’s prime ministership
What makes this election unlike any other in recent times is the release of the report card which has replaced the need for a manifesto
AAP hasn’t give BJP a single opportunity to brand Kejriwal as an ‘anti-national’, ‘urban Naxal’ or a member of the mystical ‘tukde tukde gang’
Today’s Arvind Kejriwal appeals to even those voters who see no alternative to Narendra Modi’s prime ministership
Polarising voters in the Assembly polls is similar to AAP demanding statehood in the 2019 LS election meant to elect prime minister, and may not augur well for BJP
Over the last couple of months, the Indian political system has surprised itself. The election pitch of the party in power has escaped visceral appeals littered with references to caste, community, religious pride and delivered from garlanded platforms. Instead, it comprised of a fresh new language of delivering on promises. It spoke extensively of the work done in key sectors — electricity, health, education and power. Brand Arvind Kejriwal has established direct and firm contact with the people’s necessities and made the practice of politics a lot more ordinary.
Within the capital’s borders, his hyper-local policies invoke the spirit of the ‘mohalla’. Parallelly, his stand on national decisions like Article 370 and the Ayodhya verdict doesn’t upset majoritarian sentiments.
Today’s Kejriwal appeals to even those voters who see no alternative to Narendra Modi’s prime ministership. Political marketeer Prashant Kishore jumped on board in December 2019, but long before that, the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign was looking positive and focused on performance.
The Chief Minister of Delhi had been stating the achievements of his government, primarily, the 400 plus Mohalla Clinics, the addition of more than 15,000 beds in government hospitals, the transformation of the power sector that has weeded out corruption from the system and led to this day when nearly 15 lakh residents aren’t paying a penny towards electricity; the construction of 21,000 classrooms and innovative schemes like the farishte yojana, which benefits accident victims and honours samaritans, or the street light yojana that has identified dark spots and is installing nearly 3 lakh lights using public fund.
Kejriwal has also managed to better the economic figures. The audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for the year ended March 2018 noted that the government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) has maintained a revenue surplus over the last five years. It noted that the tax revenue and the non-tax revenue registered an increase of 14.70 percent and 101.05 percent, respectively, over the last financial year despite the grants in aid from the Centre decreasing from Rs 2,825 crore (2016-17) to Rs 2,184 crore (2017-2018). Today, Kejriwal is at platforms quoting facts and no amount of slander or mockery of his ways seem to be working.
What Kishore brought to the campaign was good event management and a series of town hall events that provided an opportunity for the chief minister to showcase the work done in the last five years on different media platforms. What makes this election unlike any other in recent times is the release of the report card which has replaced the need for a manifesto. On 24 December, 2019, AAP kick-started its campaign with the release of its report card. From Wi-Fi to free transport and doorstep delivery, each achievement was bullet-pointed and sent to the homes of lakhs of voters.
While a committee to write out a manifesto was set up, comprising party spokesperson Atishi, Jasmine Shah of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi and senior party leader Ajoy Kumar, the document didn’t see the light of day till 4 February, rendering it practically pointless from a campaign point of view. The manifesto highlights schemes like the teerth yatra yojana, doorstep delivery, deshbhakti curriculum which has already been in the news and brings up older subjects like the Jan Lokpal Bill and the Delhi Swaraj Bill.
The manifesto seemed more like a formality to adhere to a conventional political protocol. The Report Card had already done what it had to.
With the self-confidence of a student with a good report card mixed with a seasoned approach towards politics that waters down any conversation around religion and swiftly replaces it with the talk of education, health, employment, civic amenities and other subjects of survival, Kejriwal marched into rallies and jan sabhas. Post the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act, areas in the capital turned into protest sites. While AAP lent support by sending ambulances to injured JNU students and reached out to the protesters on the streets through local leaders like Amanatullah Khan, the party whose roots lie in activism avoided taking an aggressively anti-centre stand.
The chief minister questioned the necessity of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, for persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries when the country’s own citizens are grappling with an unemployment crisis. By escaping the tug-of-war between the Left-wing and the Right-wing, AAP didn’t give the BJP a single opportunity to brand Kejriwal as an ‘anti-national’, ‘urban Naxal’ or a member of the mystical ‘tukde tukde gang’. With the police under the control of the Centre and the alleged involvement of BJP’s student wing in the violence inside JNU, AAP’s intervention could have been, in any case, only on moral grounds.
In Lok Sabha elections, a negative campaign against a preferred prime minister caused AAP significant damage and in the Vidhan Sabha elections, a negative campaign against a preferred chief minister is most likely to cause damage to the BJP.
Today’s Kejriwal can recite the Hanuman Chalisa unabashedly and wears a pleasant smile on his face, a leap forward from the ‘sab mile hue hain’ cynicism that had exhausted its shelf life. Today’s Kejriwal is a doer and is ready to re-think his strategies to keep his vision of honest governance alive.
One look at the BJP campaign and the desperation becomes evident. Some of that desperation arises from the party’s inability to counter AAP on facts. While cricketer and MP from East Delhi Gautam Gambhir tried to expose how Mohalla Clinics lacked basic infrastructure, BJP’s other MPs Ramesh Bidhuri and Parvesh Verma barged into schools to test AAP’s education revolution claims.
Unfortunately, for them, AAP has been transparently documenting even the roadblocks in its journey of building education and health sector reforms throughout its tenure. The party has emphasised that when the land was denied by the DDA for setting up of Mohalla Clinics, these establishments sprung up in portacabins on the side of roads. The decentralised healthcare model has earned praise from the likes of Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. Similarly, in the education sector, a child comes into a Delhi government school after studying till Class 5 in a Municipal Corporation of Delhi (controlled by the BJP) school. In 2018, the Delhi government allocated Rs 14,000 crore towards education and expressed readiness to take over MCD schools. All this has made challenging AAP’s credentials harder for BJP’s bigwigs.
The other poll pitch that seems to have fallen flat is that of unauthorised colonies. A quick glimpse into the viability of the term ‘authorised’ is something nobody in the Delhi leadership of the BJP seemed to have explained to its national leaders. "People who never thought that they will ever be able to get their home registered in their lives, are now seeing their dreams come true. Now, those people have been rid of the fear of the sarkaari (government) bulldozer," the prime minister said in an election rally on Tuesday. No less than 895 unauthorised colonies were regularised by the Sheila Dikshit government in 2012 through a notification, but until the government makes a layout plan and defines the boundaries of the colonies, the regularisation process is not complete.
Till today, no further steps have been taken to complete the regularisation. In fact, the provisional certificates issued to 1,218 unauthorised colonies over the years has led to lawlessness because building bye-laws don’t apply to these areas. It’s also worth noting what the term ‘regularised’ actually entails. The policy on regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi is set out in a 24 March 2008 DDA notification, titled ‘Regulations for Regularisation of Unauthorised Colonies’ under Section 57 of the 1957 DDA Act. There’s a cut-off date which is mentioned in the line ‘habitations existing as on 31.03.2002… would be eligible for regularisation’ and ‘date of formal announcement of regularisation scheme’. There is no specification to the latter date and the term ‘in-existence’ isn’t defined either. The party’s state leadership seems pitiably unaware of the legal complexities of the terms authorised and unauthorised.
In 2015, the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government amended the MLALAD guidelines to allow the elected representatives to spend their funds in these colonies. Before that, corruption and interference by municipal councillors hindered projects in these areas. That move marked the beginning of the end of the authorised-unauthorised debate in the capital because AAP was showing political commitment to make the areas liveable first. BJP should have geared up its cadres in the municipality to outdo AAP’s deliverability on the ground instead of an election pitch right in election season.
State party president and MP from North East Delhi Manoj Tiwari, who was brought in primarily because 40 percent of the voters are from UP and Bihar, has attempted to attack Kejriwal’s dislike for Purvanchalis over the chief minister’s remark on 'outsiders availing free treatment' but AAP’s social welfare schemes are designed to benefit the economically weaker diaspora, which is less likely to be moved by statements.
Parvesh Verma, who won with the largest number of votes in Delhi during the Lok Sabha election, is the son of former chief minister of Delhi, Sahib Singh Verma. With an education from Delhi Public School RK Puram and FORE School of Management and a powerful political lineage to back him, Verma could have played a bigger role in lending direction to the BJP Delhi camp that is relying on the popularity of celebrities like Manoj Tiwari. He could have led a better quality opposition campaign by reading into AAP’s governance model and coming up with an alternative to its people-centric policies. Instead, he concerned himself submitting a list of 54 mosques, mazaars, madrasas and graveyards constructed illegally on Delhi’s soil to Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal. A committee was set up to investigate his claims.
Polarising the voter in a clear cut development-centric campaign might not augur well for the BJP. In fact, BJP MP from Hamirpur Anurag Thakur and Verma were banned from campaigning by the Election Commission for hateful remarks in a recent rally. Verma had said that what happened in Kashmir with Kashmiri Pandits could happen in Delhi, warning that lakhs of anti-CAA protesters in Shaheen Bagh could enter people's homes to rape and kill women while Thakur led the crowd into saying "shoot the anti-nationals". These speeches incited the shooting of protesters at Jamia Nagar and another man firing near the protest site in Shaheen Bagh. Since AAP is missing from the Shaheen Bagh versus BJP debate, this was a self-goal for the BJP.
However, on Tuesday, the Delhi Police claimed that the Shaheen Bagh shooter Kapil Baisala aka Kapil Gujjar was a member of AAP. Reacting to the developments, AAP leader Sanjay Singh denied any connection with Kapil and accused the BJP of indulging in "dirty politics" in the run-up to the 8 February Delhi Assembly election.
One of the other reasons why no one in the senior party leadership – be it Dr Harsh Vardhan or Prakash Javdekar — didn’t come forward to project themselves as CM candidates for Delhi was possibly because the public mood is in favour of AAP and Kiran Bedi’s fall from grace in 2015 is a bitter memory etched in their minds.
The CAA debate is a national one and polarising the voter by repeatedly asserting the narrative of nationalist versus the anti-nationals is just like Kejriwal demanding for statehood in an election whose key purpose was to elect the prime minister. BJP could have learnt from AAP’s mistakes. One of the key reasons for BJP’s victory was the prime minister’s leadership but not a single leader in the Delhi cadre has come forward to further the spirit of ‘sabka saath-sabka vikaas’ on his or her own merit and work ethic.
The Congress, sparsely there, is seen talking about air pollution on hoardings that feature Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Its manifesto proposes to spend 25 percent of the Delhi budget on fighting pollution and improving transport; allot Rs 5,000 crore for start-up fund, unemployment allowance of Rs 5,000 per month for graduates and Rs 7,500 for postgraduates. But after the demise of Sheila Dikshit, the cadre has broken away and given that this isn’t a national election, the party isn’t seen trying too hard.
Also, Congress is the predictable opposition to BJP and not as much to the party in power in the capital, with which it had an alliance possibility in the Lok Sabha election. The Congress' campaign, thus, hasn’t found political vigour. Moreover, six of grand old party’s leaders including Purvanchali Congressman Mahabal Mishra’s son Vinay Mishra and veteran Muslim leader Shoaib Iqbal have joined AAP.
The Delhi Vidhan Sabha 2020 election isn’t one about ideologies but of deliverability. Whatever the outcome of the results, it is an election that has set higher standards of expectations that citizens have from the people in power.
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