Kejriwal has benefitted a lot from many strategic mistakes from the rival
Dr M. Manisha | February 10, 2015
As the dust settles over the Delhi assembly elections and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) returns with an astounding victory within a year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategists would be left wondering whether they had unwittingly contributed to the AAP victory, creating a national opposition for itself. If Modi’s electioneering and media blitzkrieg contributed to the BJP’s victory in Lok Sabha polls 2014, Kejriwal’s electoral strategy showed that a counter to it was possible at a much lesser cost.
The assembly elections were important for the BJP not just because Delhi is the national capital, and in that sense is a microcosm of an urban and aspirational India but also because the elections were held at a time when Modi’s ‘honeymoon period’ seemed to be getting over. For the BJP, a victory in Delhi was crucial to keep the momentum of electoral wins going. It would have kept the morale of the rank and file of the party high. More importantly, it would have kept the faith in Modi’s appeal and Amit Shah’s strategies intact. A victory in Delhi would have pushed through the economic reform of the government as it would have undoubtedly been interpreted as a vindication of the policies of the Modi government.
However, in a hurry to turn the assembly elections into a mandate for the central government the BJP made serious mistakes that may have cost it the elections. In the first place, by directly attacking Kejriwal, Modi seemed to have made the first tactical error. In the process Modi granted Kejriwal the status of a national opposition that was conspicuous by its absence. The Congress since its defeat in 2014 has gone into hibernation and has been woken up occasionally by attacks of many of its own who see it as a sinking ship. In absence of an effective and meaningful opposition, the Modi government was able to carry out its policies, though not always through means that are desirable. But by attacking Kejriwal early in the run-up to the elections Modi created an opposition. Regional satraps groping for an anti-BJP coalition were quick to jump into the bandwagon and declare support for AAP, notwithstanding their differences.
The anointment of Kiran Bedi as BJP’s chief ministerial candidature was another strategic move. Kiran Bedi stood shoulder to shoulder with Kejriwal in the Anna Hazare movement against corruption. She was perceived to be morally upright, and standing for a cleaner, meaner and safer government in Delhi. Naming Bedi as the CM candidate was a calculated measure to erode support for Kejriwal. However, it not only upset the local BJP unit that was already strife with tension but also created a perception that the party was opportunistic, parachuting an outsider for electoral gains. While it did raise allegations of opportunism against Bedi, far more significantly, it generated a greater wave of sympathy for Kejriwal who since his resignation as CM had been pleading forgiveness and seeking a second chance at every possible forum. Compared to Bedi’s opportunism, Kejriwal’s ‘sin of abdicating responsibility’ appeared much more human if not saintly.
Bedi’s candidature was a tacit recognition of the problems that Delhi faces and which Kejriwal and Bedi had together raised from another platform. Modi’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections was also due to the fact that the previous UPA government had failed to address these very issues adequately. By fronting Bedi, BJP was conceding its inability to deal with these issues effectively on its own, without support of civil society players.
Bedi converted the elections into a presidential-style contest, a strategy that BJP had consistently avoided in all previous assembly elections. If the BJP wanted to encash her image as a no-nonsense, incorruptible police officer, Kejriwal’s image as a common man was a spoiler. He along with his associates, Manish Sisodia and Yogendra Yadav, conceived an electoral strategy that countered BJP’s strategy.
The AAP campaign carefully cultivated Kejriwal’s image but gave due credence to the campaign process. The campaigning was intense, it involved citizens and engaged with them through Delhi Dialogues, interactive road shows and speeches. It focussed on the less-in-focus areas of Delhi. Kejriwal sought the support from Delhi’s under-class that would ultimately determine the fate of the elections. In some ways, AAP’s campaign was similar to Modi’s but with the common man twist.
By personalising the campaign and diverting attention from issues to individuals, the BJP further blundered. Kejriwal had already moved ahead on the moral high ground that his party held during the 2013 elections. Battling inner-party feuds, defections and funding scams, the AAP has tried to build itself around issues facing Delhi – electricity, water, education and security, essentially governance issues which Modi had touted with much success in the Lok Sabha elections.
Even before the votes were cast and the AAP had romped home as it had shown that an opposition to BJP was possible and feasible if it was based on governance issues; that there are common grounds in the aspirations of the middle class and the aam aadmi, that there are chinks in the BJP’s armour and electioneering is an art that can be mastered by all parties, big and small. AAP is in many ways is redefining the trajectory of the post-2014 politics and may emerge as the epicentre of opposition politics, courtesy the BJP.
Disclaimer: Views expressed within this article are personal views of the author
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