Delhi sets the tone
The outcome of the Delhi polls will tailor BJP’s election campaigns in upcoming state elections in Assam and West Bengal
Three shootings over four days in the nation's capital is a succinct indicator of the toxic environment that has surrounded the Delhi elections. By the end of Saturday evening, Delhi would have made its decision. But there is no denying that this state election has been one of the most communally charged and polarising in recent times. Unfortunately, this may not be the last.
The Delhi elections, in fact, kickstart a year and a half of crucial state polls. The BJP's electoral fate in Delhi will set the tone for their political campaign in succeeding state polls. Delhi has been a unique challenge for the saffron party. Faced by a party like the AAP that has performed on several counts of governance, the BJP's campaign has had to fall back on its age-old doctrine of Hindutva and nationalism. But the lows of the right-wing rhetoric have made the environment more polarising than ever.
On one side, there are the protestors of Shaheen Bagh resiliently continuing their 'dharna' against the CAA, NRC, and NPR. On the other hand, you have senior leaders of the BJP such as Anurag Thakur urging voters to "goli maaro" the "desh ke gaddaro ko" (shoot the traitors of the nation). Some misguided youth and fringe elements of the BJP have taken these provocative statements seriously enough to act on them, hence, leading to the three shootings in four days.
The plan to goad people to think on Hindu-Muslim lines, cajoling the voters to believe in the 'us vs them' theory, turning anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protesters from dissenters to anti-nationals are all political tricks played on gullible minds. But the question is, can this strategy work? In this case, the AAP is not facing anti-incumbency. The incumbent party has received laurels on its education policy accruing back-thumping from none other than newly anointed Nobel laureate, Abhijit Banerjee. The AAP government's Mohalla Clinics have allowed more people to access healthcare. Even the Shiv Sena has hailed the 'Kejriwal model' of being able to perform in spite of limited power. Most surveys have predicted an AAP victory.
The AAP government may have done well in providing facilities to the citizens of Delhi but the debutant government still has a long way to go. However, it can be said with certainty that its last five years have not been a dud. When faced with an adversary like AAP, BJP has had little to show for its own performance. The best endorsement it has received in these elections are from Delhi's traders who are pleased with the action the government has taken against e-commerce giants such as Amazon.
But BJP has little else to bank upon. India faces one of the worst economic crises with the country's GDP at a 42-year low. Pulwama and Balakot are too old to be used to the national party's advantage. Shaheen Bagh and its primary Muslim protestors have emerged as the focal point for the party's exceedingly polarised campaign. For example, Home Minister and star campaigner Amit Shah said, "Kamal ke nishaan par button zaroor dabaana, magar itne gusse se dabaana ki button Kondli mein dabe aur current... (Press the button next to lotus symbol, but with such a rage that while you press the button in Kondli, the current…)", and the gathered crowd completed his sentence, "Shaheen Bagh mein lage (is felt in Shaheen Bagh)."
When the voter of Delhi presses the button on the EVM, he will also decide the fate of the BJP game plan in states such as Assam and West Bengal slated for polls next year. If the BJP loses, it's yet another addition to its list of recent poll debacles after Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. If communal politics win, then the next few elections will witness not only a repeat but also more bitter campaigns from all parties. And rest assured, there will be little or no discussion on governance and accountability.
Shutapa Paul is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal