With nearly 20 days to go for polling day in the National Capital, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have sent their final celebrity players onto the field. While retired cricketer Gautam Gambhir will take up the mantle for the BJP in East Delhi, Olympic medallist and boxer Vijender Singh will be the face of the Congress in South Delhi. For these two seats, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded its two vibrant faces — Atishi and Raghav Chadha respectively.
The former strikes an immediate chord with the elite, with the etymology of her now-disused name (Marlena: Marx-Lenin) and her Oxford degree. Ever since her sacking by the Central government, Marlena became the poster girl of the attack on advisors who are domain experts. The narrative worked wonders for AAP, a party that plays the underdog game quite well.
Atishi rose in the shadows of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia's emphasis on public education reform through measures like skill training and international exposure of teachers of government schools and bringing in transparency into the accounts of private schools. Sisodia was AAP's East Delhi prabhari and Atishi is hoping to cash in on the compound interest of his rapport with East Delhi locals.
Chadha, AAP's candidate from South Delhi, had a 34 percent vote share in the 2017 MCD elections that AAP lost. Mathematically, this is a strong seat for the AAP and Chadha has been the party's spokesperson on all major issues — he's a chartered accountant and in charge of the party's litigation.
Atishi was initially asked to contest from New Delhi, but sources within the party suggest that Gambhir's possible candidature from the constituency made her switch to East Delhi. With Brijesh Goyal, AAP's trader face, contesting from New Delhi, BJP didn't waste Gambhir's popularity by fielding him from there. In the case of South Delhi, while Vijender's popularity among the youth and the Jat and Gurjar voters concentrated in the urban villages of South Delhi. In fact, the BJP has fielded its three-time MLA from Tughlakabad Ramesh Bidhuri, who is a Gurjar, from the same seat.
In 2014, the AAP candidate from this seat was Colonel (retired) Devinder Sehrawat, a Jat. The Congress' Ramesh Kumar, the sitting MP, is also a Jat. Of the 364 villages in the National Capital, more than 200 are dominated by Jats and nearly 70 by Gurjars. While Vijender will corner Chadha on this front, Ramesh Bidhuri's established vote base and strong links with senior leadership pose a major threat.
However, with the BJP and Congress fielding the two celebrated sportsmen, AAP's vote share might take a hit. But this could have been avoided had the party strategised cleverly.
Here are some clear mistakes in AAP's strategy for Lok Sabha 2019:
First and foremost, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal realised the irrelevance of the party that scored 67/70 (in the Assembly polls) in a national election and inserted full statehood into the campaign a little too late in the day. Last July, when the party was battling the lieutenant-governor in the Supreme Court over Article 239AA, battling for control over land, police and public order, it should have started its statehood campaign there and then. Today, with the elections around the corner, the psyche of the voter that's awash with Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi on the national front, will not be able to process the benefits of statehood. This is not a state election.
The second big strategic mistake is the lack of a unified campaign. There's no one slogan or theme that runs across all its seven contenders. Why isn't there a slogan or a theme tying out all candidates to the agenda of statehood? A small party that's merely four years into power in just one state and has one big leader who's criticized for his autocratic ways, simply cannot afford to split the campaign into multiple layers. The Congress is playing its DPCC chiefs and its rejection of an alliance with AAP has reinstated Sheila Dikshit's hold on the party's reins. This was much needed for the Delhi unit of the state that was reeling under the weak leadership of Ajay Maken.
The Congress' most noted face in the National Capital, its former chief minister, began her door-to-door campaign in January and caused a dent in Dilip Pandey's (North East Delhi candidate) ground level reach. Pandey was scaling his campaign through an army of foot soldiers but ever since Dikshit arrived on the scene, the hyper-local agenda of Pandey's campaign is being brushed under the carpet by the strong leader who can throw back to her own ample successes in Delhi's development and also to the national narrative where the Congress is taking on the BJP.
The third and final error is that Balbir Singh Jakhar from West Delhi and Guggan Singh from North West Delhi don't represent AAP's education-healthcare-anti corruption ethos. Jakhar's seat was announced at the very end and the party was ready to give it up to a Congress candidate had the alliance happened. And Guggan Singh who defected from the BJP is more of a political strategist than a pro-development leader. The aesthetic of a face that reflects the party's poll planks could have taken the pressure off Chadha and Atishi and brought in symmetry between its seven candidates.
AAP's campaign is all over the place and that's why the last-minute celebrity entrants from the Congress and the BJP can sway the voting pattern in the National Capital that goes to the polls on 12 May.
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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 16:06:52 IST