AAP victory: A tectonic shift in Indian politics

AAP victory: A tectonic shift in Indian politics

The tsunami triggered by the Aam Aadmi Party victory in Delhi has the seeds of tectonic shift in Indian politics in days to come. It has provided a  platform for alternative politics to the electorate disenchanted with both the national parties. While the BJP’s worst-ever performance is a terrible loss of face for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the party’s face in the campaign, the Congress, is reduced to a historical zero in the national capital.

However, it is too early to say whether the AAP can and will replicate its Delhi success pan-India. The virtual uprooting of the BJP and the Congress in the national capital by a two-year-old party sans money and muscle power shows the extent of popular disillusionment with the ruling dispensation. It is also a pointer to the rapid transformation of India’s politics set off by huge demographic changes and the emergence of an aspirational class who can no longer be bluffed by the political masters.

While arrogance, mismanagement and divisive politics did the BJP in, Arvind Kejriwal bounced back seizing the momentum by packaging himself as a strong, combative leader and the AAP as the most attractive party across caste, class, religion gender, age and even income groups. 

In sharp contrast to BJP’s communal and negative politics, Kejriwal spoke a different lexicon. He did not respond to mud slinging, but unveiled a specific, concrete action-plan , talked about a bribe-free India,  end to VIP culture, water, electricity, road and jobs. And by publicly snubbing Imam Bhukari of Jama Masjid for making an appeal to Muslims on poll eve to vote for the AAP, Kejriwal sent a powerful message that he is against communal politics.

Dedicated and committed AAP volunteers worked hard at the grass-root level away from media glare. While the BJP went on a massive ad blitz showcasing Modi, the AAP effectively used the social media making the election into a – “muffler man vs Rs.10 lakh suit man”, which caught the fancy of the voters.

The writing was already on the wall for the BJP and the Congress. Unlike earlier, election rallies addressed by Modi had drawn thin and unenthusiastic crowd this time. Modi had won the mandate on the promise of development, clean government and better governance. However, nine months down the line, more than development agenda, divisive politics and unabashed communal propaganda by a section of BJP leaders, dented the image of the Modi government.

The BJP too helped Kejriwal. A section of hardline partymen sullied the image of the Modi government by their divisive propaganda. The talk of the need for Hindu women to have four children and building statues of Nathuram Godse, killer of Mahatma Gandhi, by hardline saffron leaders put off a large section of youth and liberal sections of society.

The anger against divisive politics was such that the minorities, traditional voters of the Congress, polarised towards the AAP in an unprecedented manner making the fight bi-polar between the AAP and the BJP. A triangular contest would have at least made the BJP a decent runner up. By the time BJP managers realised the danger of the Congress being completely decimated and offered to help some Congress candidates with funds and crowds for their election rallies it was already late.   

The original sin

This was an election the BJP bungled from the beginning. The original sin was not holding Delhi Assembly polls soon after Kejriwal resigned as chief minister last year when the chips were down for the AAP chief while the BJP was still basking under glory of an invincible Modi.

Unwittingly, it provided Kejriwal enough time to micro-manage AAP campaign even as the central government started failing in perception battle with rising prices and worsening law and order situation in Delhi (under Centre’s rule). The BJP has also been ruling the municipal corporation for the last two consecutive terms but paid no heed to improve civic amenities.  
Smug from a string of electoral victories across the country, the BJP was initially dismissive of Kejriwal. However, as pre-poll surveys began to say that the AAP is neck and neck, it brought Kiran Bedi into the party fold and then made the mistake of projecting her, a rank outsider, party’s CM candidate much to the consternation of established and loyal party leaders.

A brewing rebellion was doused by Amit Shah’s strong-arm methods. Lok Sabha MP Manoj Tiwari, a popular Bhojpuri singer and television actor even went public against Bedi calling her a “dictator”. He has considerable following among Delhi’s Bihari population .

Another BJP leader Narendra Tandon, a campaign aide of Bedi, quit the party protesting her “dictatorial attitude”. However, he returned after a meeting with BJP president Amit Shah. On the eve of poll senior BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha  praised the “good image” of Kejriwal.

Even after Bedi’s projection, BJP’s own in-house surveys revealed that the AAP
is marching ahead. It was then the party decide to invoke Modi magic to win the polls, but in vain. Conspiracy theorists are now hinting at an internal sabotage against Bedi or Modi.

A desperate BJP tried to enlist the support of Anna Hazare, but he refused to play ball. And to compound matters the saffron managers committed yet another faux pas as its vision document termed people from the North-East as “immigrants” triggering massive protests from the hill people. And in yet another gaffe the party ad derided Kejriwal’s caste (aggraval) in a newspaper advertisement.

Apart from waning Modi magic, an unprecedented political gang up against BJP also helped Kejriwal. On the eve of election Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, JD(U) leaders Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat exhorted Delhiites to vote for the AAP.

The Congress is in an existential crisis.  The Modi government will have to face some anti-incumbency by 2019. The AAP has the potential to capture the Left-of-Centre space to emerge as a national alternative.  Much will depend on its performance in Delhi. It remains to be seen if the AAP can fulfil its electoral promises given the huge expectations its victory has generated. Kejriwal has time on his side – four years before the next Lok Sabha polls. Will he take the plunge? Only time will tell.

(The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator)