Millennium Post

Battle lines drawn for Delhi

There is little doubt that 2014 was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s year. However, the New Year brings along a new set of challenges for the party. The most significant event of the year is the Delhi assembly polls. A 70-member assembly, with seven Lok Sabha seats, may not appear to be a difficult challenge to surmount. This column, however, shall elucidate a few thoughts about the events surrounding the elections, one day after the Election Commission announced poll dates for Delhi.

A striking feature has been the “negative” campaign unleashed by the BJP in Delhi. This is most unlike the strategy adopted by the BJP in other states that went to polls in 2014, where the party did very well. The common refrain across these states was a corrupt Congress party being led by an inefficient duo of mother and son. In states like Maharasthra and Haryana, this strategy worked very well. However when the battleground shifts to a state like Delhi, with zero visibility for the Congress, a ‘Modi-fied’ BJP is struggling to hold onto its promise of ‘development’ and good governance.

At a rally at the Ram Lila Maidan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led an uncharacteristically sharp attack against Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP leader was called a ‘Naxalite’ and was even asked to go to the jungles and fight alongside Maoist insurgents. All these comments came from a leader, who during the Lok Sabha campaign at the beginning of 2014, refused to even name Kejriwal even once. While the national media was busy creating an imaginary Modi versus Kejriwal battle, the BJP strongman did not fall for the bait. He had referred to Kejriwal as ‘AK-49’ during one of his speeches towards the end of March, after the latter had resigned as Delhi chief minister. Therefore, why is Prime Minister Modi is not focussing on his development agenda?

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s vote share in Delhi was 46 per cent. In all seven constituencies, BJP candidates defeated AAP candidates by margins of over 1 lakh votes. Yet seven months down the line, the BJP seems unwilling to project a chief ministerial candidate. Are we to understand that Dr Harsh Vardhan who was good enough to be the chief minister in 2013 and Union Health Minister in 2014 May, is suddenly not a workable card anymore? If you listen to the BJP’s radio ad campaigns, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that Kejriwal and his band of ‘AAPTARDS’ were the most crooked people around.

The ad campaign uses the same jargon that Modi used last Saturday. It is almost as if the BJP is missing the Congress’ presence in the electoral fray. With the Congress around, it was easy to convert Rahul and Sonia into punching bags. But with the Congress on the downswing in Delhi, how do you create a punching bag for yourself? Is it necessary to create a villain in an election? Just like a movie, where you identify a hero with reference to a villain, could this be an attempt to portray Kejriwal as the villain of the piece? Yes, he did punch way above his own weight last year. However, should the Prime Minister of India involve himself in a direct one to one battle with a man he called a ‘Naxalite’? Is he not inadvertently, doing Kejriwal a favour by establishing a direct contest between the two?

The truth is that Aam Aadmi Party had indeed ceded a lot of ground, since its spectacular success in 2013. With significant support from the media, it was like a plot for the movies. However, just like all good things, AAP’s honeymoon with the media came to end after he came to power. The same TV channels, which had played cheerleader, overnight, became an albatross around Kejriwal’s neck. As Modi swept to power, it was almost as if the entire educated class had simply walked into the BJP’s camp. Despite the downturn, AAP did manage to secure 33 per cent vote share during the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi.

While the urban rich from South Delhi may have decided to invest in ‘Modi-mania’, outer Delhi and less affluent areas like Nangloi, Jahangirpuri still have sizable number of AAP supporters. This is probably one reason why the BJP is targeting Kejriwal in Delhi. The other reason is that with the kind of hype surrounding Modi, anything short of an outright majority will be lapped up by AAP  to suggest that they were the only outfit across the country to tame the ‘Modi wave’.

A few weeks back, it would have been unimaginable to look at the Delhi polls as a face-off between a wannabe like Arvind Kejriwal and someone like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been lauded as a great world leader. However, through its own campaign strategy, the BJP may well have reduced the electoral contest in Delhi to a straight showdown between Arvind Kerjirwal and Narendra Modi.

The author is a senior journalist and held top positions with NDTV and CNN IBN

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