AAP’s strategy for Delhi elections was based on specific factors
FOLLOWING yet another massive mandate, Arvind Kejriwal was sworn in as Chief Minister of Delhi on Sunday for the third time in a row. The AAP overcame an extremely tough challenge posed by the Bharatiya Janata Party that rallied all its Union ministers, chief ministers and MPs under the leadership of Home Minister Amit Shah who has acquired the legend of being the unbeatable Chanakya. The AAP victory is credited to the robust high wall it built which the shrill BJP propaganda portraying Kejriwal as ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-nationalist’ failed to scale. Kejriwal projected his own brand of Hinduism by reciting Hanuman chalisa during a public interaction. His daughter told the media that her father had taught her good values of Hinduism, such as those enshrined in the Bhagwad Gita. Among the promises the AAP made was inclusion of ‘deshbhakti’ (nationalism) in the curriculum of Delhi schools. Throughout the campaign the AAP projected itself as a political party wedded to the values of ‘positive nationalism’ (sakaratamak rashtriyata) contrary to the values of ‘negative nationalism’ (nakaratamak rashtriyata) which it alleged the BJP practised. The fact that the AAP got nearly as sweeping a mandate as in the last election goes to show that the voters sided with the AAP stance, rather than the BJP’s.
However, to believe that the AAP 2020 poll strategy can be replicated as a national template or even as state templates would be sheer political naivete. The political analysts of liberal persuasion—the favourite punching bags of the hyper-nationalists—as well as the AAP strategists at the apex and in the states will be ignoring the Delhi-specific factors that compelled Kejriwal (on his own or at hired political strategist Prashant Kishor’s advice) to adopt the ears-open-but-mouth-shut stance with respect to the rude reviling by the BJP. Delhi has a sizeable traditional support base of the BJP since Jan Sangh days. They are fiercely pro-BJP and pro-Modi but they were inclined to see Kejriwal as the chief minister of Delhi on account of his performance. The BJP of Delhi is a house with at least three separate kitchens and the fighting within did not inspire confidence. Kejriwal strictly avoided attacking Modi in order not to alienate the traditional BJP voters that seemed inclined to vote for him. If they voted for him, he would not only gain, but he would also deprive the BJP of a sound base to start with. It was in order to please the hardcore Hindu voters that Kejriwal projected himself as a devotee of Hanuman. Those who supported the BJP for fighting for a Ram temple could never find any fault with the Hinduism of Kejriwal as Hanuman was known as the greatest bhakta of Ram.
Another Delhi-specific factor that shaped Kejriwal’s ears-open-but-mouth-shut stance was Shaheen Bagh, which had become a focal point of opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). No matter how hard the BJP tried to link Kejriwal to Shaheen Bagh, the AAP leader kept quiet. It was not the hardcore liberal Kejriwal that the nation came to know during the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption campaign. It was a Kejriwal who did not want to pay high costs for counter-aggressive liberalism. It was a Kejriwal who, even though his party had voted against the CAA in Parliament, did not want to be identified with the street protests against the amendment. The political analysts of liberal persuasion have been full of praise for Kejriwal for what they should have denounced as opportunism or betrayal to the cause of constitutional and democratic values. Nevertheless, Kejriwal’s antiseptic approach to street anti-CAA protests worked. Even Muslims voted for him, though he shunned them. Kejriwal’s this tactic too was aimed at capturing the traditional base of the BJP, as also to assure the large numbers of non-BJP Hindu voters who had bought the BJP propaganda that the CAA was an amendment to give citizenship, not to take away the citizenship of any Indian and hence saw the protests like Shaheen Bagh as pointless and politically motivated. However, these specific factors of Delhi will not be there in Goa or any other state. The AAP or any non-BJP alliance intending to challenge the BJP would have to make a state-specific template for every state.