Lessons for BJP as the mandate reflects voter maturity
The Assembly elections in Delhi has been significant in a variety of ways. It had perhaps the most toxic campaign run by the country's leading party, focussing on traditional rhetorics of nationalism, pitted against the novel political outlook of development and delivery carried out by a young party for the Capital's seat. The final mandate tells the rest of the tale. With an astounding majority, the Aam Aadmi Party won the Delhi Assembly polls 2020. The mandate was not just AAP's magnificent return to power, it was also a reality check for a hopeful BJP and a largely dormant Congress. The run-up to the election had largely cleared the fact that it was BJP against AAP all along, even as Congress made attempts to an ideal resurgence. Riding on the pro-incumbency wave, AAP was the recipient of the popular vote. BJP's divisive campaign only made it easier for AAP. The stark difference between the campaigns of both parties largely reflected the odds. But odds in politics can easily be trumped. At least BJP state unit chief Manoj Tiwari ardently believed that. However, it was not the case on the day of counting. Right from the morning trend, AAP soared and hovered between 55-60 seats while the remaining went in BJPs kitty; Congress, as expected, drew nil. While few AAP star campaigners like Atishi and Manish Sisodia were trailing in their respective constituencies, the day was theirs in the end. By noon, AAP's count soared beyond the 60-mark with elated AAP supporters and workers thronging the streets. Arvind Kejriwal and his young party had won the successive mandate; making it three in a row. Their poll strategy caught BJP off-guard as the latter produced moments of hatred in its campaign that marked a new low in political campaigns. AAP could have lost the record-majority that it had produced in the 2015 elections — winning 67 out of 70 seats — largely due to the astounding victory that BJP had registered at the Centre. But the Delhi results show that voters could well differentiate between Centre and Delhi when it came to governance. In fact, BJP has failed to produce the same magic in the states that it did in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. After losing the Hindi heartland of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it lost Maharashtra and Jharkhand to coalition governments. Though Congress never rose to the level of opposition that we would expect it to, BJP's popularity declined in the states despite its apparently muscular performance at the Centre when it came to taking hard decisions. It was not surprising of BJP to give its best in snatching the National Capital. But even BJP's massive outreach besides star campaigners in Prime Minister, Union Home Minister, UP Chief Minister as well as several Union ministers failed to yield the desired outcome. Their meagre numbers in the final result was perhaps a fitting response to their divisive political campaign in the backdrop of anti-CAA agitation in the Capital. Mere criticism of AAP with a set of promises would have earned BJP a few more seats than what its critically misguided campaign did. In the hate speeches and flawed criticism of the AAP government that it promoted, BJP lost the major share of votes; whatever number they could have garnered. The Okhla constituency which saw the maximum intensity of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act — Jamia and Shaheen Bagh — saw AAP sitting MLA Amanatullah Khan register 80.88 per cent of the total vote share (1,09,017 votes) against BJP's Braham Singh who got 15.22 per cent (20,520 votes). It is important to note that AAP did not pursue Shaheen Bagh, promoting protests or opposing them, but rather BJP that ardently mentioned it in rallies and speeches. AAP continuously talked about development, delivery, governance, devoting its strategy to that of work done and promises made that would be stitched together upon its return. Voter sentiment reflects a vast appreciation for that narrative. But of course, some percentage of that voter sentiment is a collective of those who simply rejected BJP's narrative of Shaheen Bagh and hate politics.
The outcome of Assembly polls in Delhi draws reflects the maturing population. The average voter is no longer influenced by rhetorics and cheap politics. It does not pay heed to divisive agendas and irrelevant achievements. It appreciates development and lends an ear to proposals that can materialise, not hollow promises that are routinely projected. AAP has reaped the dividends of its work in the past five years and the 60-plus score is simply reflective of brownie points that it earned because of BJP's miserable counter-strategy. Congress's minimal vote share is also a contributing factor to AAP's landslide majority. In its own period of misfortune, Congress's dismal performance failed to cut AAP's vote share and hence, allowed the latter to reap full dividends. Even in its low, Congress played a somewhat instrumental part. Debates and discussions cite how BJP's campaign overshadowed AAP's promises which will now be in the spotlight as AAP forms the government once again to transform the national capital.
BJP got a taste of its own strategy as a strong leader in Arvind Kejriwal exhibited the exact result that Narendra Modi did at the Centre in successive parliamentary elections. While AAP's focus on issues was definitely a contributing factor, it was a successful and powerful leader that swung the outcome AAP's way. The popular vote and exit polls drew the result in advance as Kejriwal stormed to power in Delhi. While there is a lot that BJP has to introspect as it prepares for West Bengal and Bihar Assembly polls, the Delhi result should serve as a major lesson for BJP. An indifferent attitude towards protests as well as an unwavering stance on the new citizenship law has hurt the party prospects quite evidently. Successive losses in state assemblies compounded by a precarious economic growth and ambiguous Kashmir situation is not what party's astounding majority at the Centre ought to reflect. While the citizenship law will meet its fate after the due deliberation over the same by the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, BJP's major poll plank could be the resurgence of India's economic growth. While Delhi gave its answer, the cordial functioning of Delhi and Centre is what will reap comprehensive dividends to the national capital. BJP and AAP have to go beyond party and political lines to allow for Delhi's true development. There lies a prospect for AAP to evolve and spread beyond the National Capital. But its attitude of one step at a time is what will bring quality to the 'new' Centre ideology that it has brought in the country's political spectrum. AAP's victory is a remarkable example of faith in governance and welfare. While the victory denotes development trumping nationalism by a margin, it suspects how the average voter feels the lack of good opposition on the national scale. AAP's modest victory over a befitting challenger in BJP asserts the lack of alternative on the national front, and perhaps other states that host a traditional opposition bereft of delivery politics. Delhi Assembly poll results offer an instructive insight for local parties across the country as well as Congress. It is theirs to decide if they realise the difference or overlook it.