In Retrospect

Beyond hawking hatred

Delhi presses button hard to bring back the Aam Aadmi Party to power for the third time with the latter winning 62 out of 70 seats in what is being described as a victory for the ‘politics of work’ over BJP’s anti-national, anti-Muslim rhetoric and vitriolic election campaign

For the past few months, there's been a prevailing sense of severance among the citizens of India — a new feeling of helplessness emanating from a certain alienation from the workings of the nation driven by a climate of fear.

India has never been in such a spot, barring the Emergency under former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's rule, and certainly not to this degree, which can only be characterised as a form of inebriation. The judiciary, the police and other law enforcement agencies are all believed to have been co-opted by the Central government; and orders for raids by agencies against Opposition leaders are often said to come "from the very top;" number of "sedition" cases have gone up dramatically, more so among students who have tried to question or oppose; leaders have been jailed or put under house arrest; contentious laws have been passed in Parliament at odd hours, often without consideration of Constitutional rightness and disparate realities seem to be continuously hitting the 1.3 billion people who are facing a particular quagmire — this ferocious discouragement of dissent against the achhe din Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so vociferously advertised to Indian voters in his numerous rallies.

Rouse Avenue wore a different colour on February 11, 2020, when victorious Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Convener Arvind Kejriwal addressed his workers after the results for the Delhi Assembly elections were declared.

The people of Delhi gave a mandate which outrightly rejected the rhetoric of hate, toxic communalism and divisive politics, bringing Kejriwal back to power as the Chief Minister with 62 out of 70 seats.

And therein lies the irony! Just eight months back, the mighty Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi in the 2019 general elections. But for the Assembly polls, even a mammoth campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home minister Amit Shah, 11 sitting or former Chief Ministers, seven Union ministers and over 200 BJP MPs, could not make the party cross the single-digit mark.

Delhi's Assembly election results marked a comprehensive electoral setback for the BJP, which has faced a string of failures in state elections after its domination over last year's general polls.

Since December 2018, BJP had lost power in five states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.

With the saffron party wanting to turn the Delhi verdict into a quasi-referendum on Shaheen Bagh, matters went out of hand when Amit Shah had to chastise party workers for chanting "goli maaro" at a public meeting. BJP's desperation became evident when its prominent leaders resorted to the vituperative glossary, publicly terming the protesters traitors and that they should be shot dead; raising slogans like Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saa*** ko, biryani and terrorist jibes coupled with others describing the election as a battle between Pakistan and India.

As the campaign neared conclusion, it was clear that the BJP, unable to tackle Kejriwal on the development plank, was desperately trying to turn the election into a battle between two communities. The party's hate-filled, divisive and communal rhetoric failed to garner political legitimacy in Delhi.

BJP's desperation for Delhi was understandable because the party has been out of power in the national Capital for the past 22 years.

Contrary to this, the AAP's inclusive civic agenda, kaam ki rajneeti (politics of work) and steering clear of polarization vanquished BJP's virulent hyper-nationalism.

Kejriwal retained his New Delhi seat for the third time, with a vote share of 61.1 per cent, almost double that of the runner-up, BJP youth leader Sunil Yadav.

AAP incumbent Sanjeev Jha had the highest victory margin of over 88,000 votes in north Delhi's Burari. Shailendra Kumar from the Janata Dal United, a BJP ally, came second in the seat dominated by migrants from Bihar.

Incumbent AAP MLA and Delhi Wakf Board chairman Amanatullah Khan bagged the highest vote share — 66.09 per cent — in Okhla, a Muslim-majority neighbourhood where Shaheen Bagh is located.

It is increasingly becoming clear, even to those in support of the BJP-led Central government, that beyond the vast numbers in the Lok Sabha, the dispensation has nothing to offer to the people by way of positive economic agenda. Its arrogance, haughtiness and megalomania can barely conceal its cerebral emptiness.

BJP must awaken to the realisation that it needs more than zealotry, unnecessary belligerence and sabre-rattling to persuade people to vote for it; that it requires to take punitive action to halt the party's degeneration and that it cannot edge out or silence its critics to occupy the entire political space.

So, have Delhi elections marked a paradigm shift in Indian politics? There seems to be a little deviation from the paradigm though, or rather an extension of it which has the potential to create a more contemporary narrative. In that case, there will be a number of reasons for the BJP to worry. Corresponding to this, it is important to see if Kejriwal can create the same magic outside Delhi.

BJP's paradigm has Hindutva at its soul; more rejuvenated into a lethal political blueprint when added to the narrative of development — something that the Prime Minister extraordinarily propagated, leaving a large section of Hindu voters hypnotised.

In 2019, this narrative and Modi's magnetism saw BJP win with increased numbers. But the story of Delhi was different.

The protests in Shaheen Bagh and beyond had put the BJP on the back foot for the first time, and if the party had won in Delhi, it would be seen as a crucial way to recapture the narrative in its favour and demonstrate wide support for the CAA.

On the other hand, Kejriwal took to innovative politics. In 2013, he offered a new narrative — clean politics, which was a legacy of the Anna Movement.

In the 2020 Delhi Assembly elections, Kejriwal created a delicate mix of development and Hindutva. He adopted

the "Hindu-ness" as a way of life and deleted the "chemical of hate" in his narrative.

His recitation of Hanuman Chalisa, touching his mother's feet, visit to the Hanuman temple on the eve of polling day — all masterstrokes and if reasonably analysed, these were lessons learnt from Modi's book. The Prime Minister had visited Kedarnath a day before the last phase of polling in 2019 Parliamentary elections; his pictures and videos went viral all over the media/social media. He has often shared pictures with his mother as well.

BJP in Delhi was led by those who had no idea how to counter Kejriwal's guile and rip-off.

While Kejriwal sought votes for his work, BJP toiled hard to unseat him through a vicious witch-hunt. The Prime Minister termed the ongoing Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi a proliferating mindset which needed to be checked. His Union Home Minister wanted voters pressing the saffron button so hard that the current is felt in Shaheen Bagh.

To celebrate electoral victory, party workers who had gathered outside the AAP headquarters on the day of result, put up a poster of Shah with the caption "Current Laga Kya".

In a presumable jibe against the Union Home minister, AAP workers flaunted a broom, the party's symbol, alongside Shah's poster, asking him if he felt the current of the ongoing electoral trends that day.

Kejriwal's swearing-in on Sunday is bound to be another opportunity of the Opposition's show of strength — the harbinger of a broad-based anti-BJP alliance amid the uproar over the new citizenship law.

An invitation has been extended to the Prime Minister as well along with other dignitaries.

There will be a special guest too — one-year-old 'baby Kejriwal' Avyaan Tomar, who shot to fame after he was spotted at the AAP office dressed like the Chief Minister — with an AAP cap, spectacles, a maroon sweater, a painted moustache and of course the muffler.

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