Arvind Kejriwal should send a thank you note to the BJP. But for the BJP's strategy of treating the Delhi election like a war and exaggerating its political importance, Kejriwal would have been struggling to rise from the debris of Varanasi.
Only a few days ago the BJP won an election in Jharkhand, where nobody even knew the name of its chief ministerial candidate or the name of its principal adversary. Before that it quietly went about its task of pocketing Maharashtra and Haryana.
Till late December, the BJP appeared to be toasting to yet another victory in Delhi. Opinion polls suggested that the AAP would be decimated; TV channels and newspapers were not even talking about Kejriwal and the nationwide perception was that Delhi would fall in Modi's basket like a ripe mango.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be argued that the BJP made a big mistake by investing too much, too early in this election and turning it into a high-stakes game.
Delhi, after all, is a small state. Its chief minister — it wouldn't matter if he were to be re-designated as mayor — has limited powers. Until Sheila Dikshit became the CM, politicians used to look down upon the job and prefer a role at the Centre. (Sushma Swaraj, a reluctant CM in 1998, resigned her Assembly seat and returned to national politics in 1999).
First, it made the blunder of sending Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take on Kejriwal at the very beginning. The right strategy, perhaps, would have been to let local leaders spar with Kejriwal and then let Modi deliver the knock-out punch.
Modi started too early and erred in targeting Kejriwal, a strategy that was in stark contrast to his ploy of ignoring the AAP leader during the Lok Sabha polls.
When Modi attacked Kejriwal, calling him a Naxalite who should be externed to a jungle, he immediately raised the stakes in Delhi, converting it into a contest between an invincible PM and a vulnerable wannabe. (Simultaneously suggesting that the Congress is out of the race, a message that helped AAP).
The PM's rally at Delhi's Ramleela Maidan, appears to be the turning point of the 2015 election. Till then, the Delhi election was a low-key affair being fought quietly in the gali-mohalla of the Capital.
But Modi's rally raised the profile of the battle. It revived the interest of the media, which in turn, took it to drawing rooms outside Delhi. Within days, the whole country's attention was riveted.
Now, there was no turning back or lowering of stakes for the BJP.
No honour is big enough for a fighter to be challenged be somebody who is bigger, better and more powerful, especially when everybody is watching. So, Kejriwal, who has excellent understanding of the importance of theatrics, tamasha, TV and twitter in an election, pounced on the opportunity.
Nobody knows whether Modi's rally was a flop show or how many people attended it. But the AAP cleverly created the impression that Modi failed to draw a large crowd and his popularity is on the wane.
The AAP won half of the battle when it succeeded in conveying that Modi's magic is not working in Delhi. For, everything the BJP has done since has been correlated with the 'failure' of Modi's rally and, ergo, a desperate attempt to salvage the BJP campaign.
Kiran Bedi, for instance, was always meant to be the BJP's choice for Delhi CM. In April 2014, party's Delhi in charge Nitin Gadkari revealed his hand when he tweeted Bedi would be the BJP's spearhead. Though the BJP distanced itself from the tweet, Gadkari himself never denied it.
But the timing of Bedi's induction into the BJP added fuel to the AAP campaign that Modi needed someone else to lead the campaign, even if only to be made the scapegoat for a defeat.
And now that the Bedi magic is not working-at least the surveys suggest she has failed to make an impact-the BJP is sending more warriors to take on Kejriwal.
As reported by Firstpost earlier, the party has deputed finance minister Arun Jaitley to oversee the poll campaign. In addition, several high-profile Cabinet ministers have been asked to hold rallies and deal with Kejriwal's questions and allegations.
But this is just the advance guard. Another army is working on the sidelines.
The BJP has asked 120 of its MPs and most of its chief ministers, except Vasundhara Raje who has been conspicuously benched, to campaign in Delhi's streets and manage booths on the polling day.
The MPs have been given charge of specific constituencies. Om Birla, the Kota parliamentarian who was seen outside Bedi's home during Ravish Kumar's NDTV interview with the BJP's chief ministerial candidate, is looking after Krishna Nagar. In addition, he has been asked to contact voters from his area in Delhi and convince them to vote for the BJP.
The PM, his cabinet colleagues, BJP CM's, 120 MPs and the RSS cadre, this, essentially, is the nature of the force lined up by the BJP to crush Kejriwal.
The BJP may claim that there is nothing extraordinary about sending such a large and high-profile contingent to campaign. But, it had not unleashed a similar force in Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir or even Haryana, to fight the polls. Even Maharashtra looked like a mock drill compared with the war in Delhi.
Obviously, Delhi is special for the BJP. And the party doesn't want to lose the election at any cost.
Some of its concerns are justified. A defeat in Delhi would strip the BJP of its aura of invincibility, expose Amit Shah as a mere mortal, deflate the enthusiasm of Modi's supporters and leave a strategically important place to a bellicose street fighter like Kejriwal who has the potential to create a lot of trouble for the Modi government.
No, the BJP doesn't want to lose Delhi and certainly not to Kejriwal.
An underdog owes his entire existence and legend to his rival. In the 2006 film 300, Leonidas wouldn't have been considered a hero if he had fought a smaller army or a lesser king. But the Persian king Xerxes turned him into a hero by sending his entire army and best fighters to crush Leonidas.
Win or lose, Kejriwal should send a thank you note to the BJP. It has made his fight immortal and revived his political career.
The BJP, after puffing and panting in public, may still go on to win Delhi. But only after losing its aura of invincibility.
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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2015 08:49:18 IST