AAP’s victory in Delhi brings BJP’s centralised power to a point of crisis
With Delhi refusing to budge, it has displayed that despite seductive and hormonally charged sounds made by BJP’s top, middle and bottomof-the-barrel poll dancers throughout the election campaign, it’s not going to try out a new flavour in the state. There is only one thing that trumps wonderful promises, and that is promises delivered. Arvind Kejriwal has, more or less, managed to do that in his five-year term in India’s most high profile, yet numerically less consequential, state.
And as the case is with things high profile – its profile made higher after BJP ironically tried to make the 70 seat legislative elections willy nilly a quasi-referendum on Modi Raj – the larger national picture may take a disproportionate turn.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are reminded time and again quite correctly, has no other rival on the national stage. All talk of Kejriwal, fresh out of ‘giant killing’, preparing to expand Aam Aadmi Party’s territory is not just unrealistic, but silly. By its very nature, AAP is a contained politicoadministrative entity, its strength lying in implementing plans. It understands, and succeeds, within this urban quasipanchayati rubric. To scale up such a model beyond the state fresh off this victory is the sort of IKEA fantasy disgruntled Congress-type supporters (who have been rid of the very notion that they could possibly be Congresstype supporters) imagine – before being brought down crashing to the ground.
But AAP’s victory in Delhi – and more to the point, BJP’s defeat in Delhi – presents a conundrum for BJP. To retain rule over India, while being made to forego increasing parts of it, can result in hallucinatory notions of one’s own power over electorates while finding electoral losses difficult to explain.
One major virtue of BJP president and home minister Amit Shah has been his reputation of ‘not leaving anything to chance’ (read: leave matters to ideological ebb and flow). Booth level precision coupled with atavistic fervour and manufactured fears, along with having the best political poster boy on BJP’s wall, have made Shah’s field marshalling a potent force over the last six-and-a-half years.
Added to that is BJP’s standard reaction to pushbacks and defeats: a redoubled effort to plug holes and do what it takes to recover ground. Now, not to draw a line through disparate dots, that has not been happening for BJP in states for a while now. Delhi’s mandate, for instance, isn’t a vote against Citizenship (Amendment) Act and GoI’s other traffic re-routing initiatives. But they certainly have been caught out to be chaos manufacturing, police barrier erecting distractions that come in the way of ‘decent living’ that AAP seems to have been busier facilitating for many.
Kejriwal was careful to not fall for the many baits BJP set out for AAP before the Delhi polls. Incendiary remarks by various BJP leaders – which once made, were impossible to be put back in the proverbial tube even after Election Commission’s raps on knuckles – were replied with utter silence. Well meaning social media folks were appalled – ‘How can the sitting Chief Minister of Delhi not reach out to those being beaten up outside Jamia Millia Islamia?’ ‘Shaheen Bagh is happening in his frontyard, and yet not a sign of the man!’ Pressing flesh and showing camaraderie would have got Kejriwal rousing cheers – from those who rousingly cheer for him anyway. But it would have made it easier for BJP to showcase to the bijli-sadak-paani lot of prospective voters who stands where in ‘India’s current state of anarchy’. By not engaging at all, Kejriwal made AAP’s messaging clear: This chaos has not been brought about by those at Shaheen Bagh or Jamia, but by an administration that has steamrollered through CAA simply because it can. And he did this rather subliminally, despite all the foam-inthe-mouth power BJP had at its disposal, and taunts from some quarters of peddling ‘soft Hindutva’ (a term akin to ‘half pregnant’) for tactical gains.
What the AAP leadership refrained from doing – letting Modi-admiring non-bhakts know that, gorgeous as the PM may still be, they were backing a destructive political force – it let loose by showcasing what the Kejriwal government had delivered in the last five years. The fact that unlike GoI, Delhi’s government has been relatively protected from bearing the brunt of the ravages wrought by economic weather conditions mattered less to a majority of Delhi’s voters than the fact that AAP had kept the terms of its quite un-messianic contract: providing education, social welfare, water, etc that were under its jurisdiction (and not under the Union home ministry’s, a point underlined by the display of Delhi police not as a CAA protester bashing force, but as one that doesn’t seem to be very good at keeping peace in Delhi).
AAP’s victory has exposed BJP’s shortcoming. With any skilled political opponent that has something more to show than just its ‘anti-fascist’ street cred, BJP has a challenge. The law of diminishing returns has set in – not to the point of either state elections or the national one rejecting Modi’s starlight. But to the point where BJP’s star (only?) brand ambassador increasingly seems to function in a ceremonial, feel-good, international fora and rally/ anniversary function/ radio show speech making role.
The admired and loved Narendra Modi looks increasingly presidential, rather than prime ministerial, in a country ruled by many federal leaders holding, governing, and taking care of their own turfs just enough to win elections.