A memorable election campaign has drawn to a close and now it us up to the voters of Delhi to make their decision. The no-holds-barred clash between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has held the attention of the entire nation in recent days. As AAP, led by an untiring and unshakeable Arvind Kejriwal, accomplished an almost inconceivable turnaround in the polls, a surprised BJP tried to throw every possible obstacle in its path from the surprise announcement of Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial-candidate to employing negative campaign tactics at the fag end of the campaign that even shocked many of its own ardent supporters.
The BJP seemed so intent on stopping AAP and Kejriwal that it chose a CM-candidate solely on her potential ability to neutralise Kejriwal’s appeal but in the process engendered fractious infighting within its Delhi unit. Also, BJP seemed so caught up in a negative diatribe targeting AAP that it could not find the time or inclination to decide on a proper manifesto, instead producing a wishy-washy vision statement that only made headlines for idiotically referring to Delhi’s residents from the Northeast as ‘immigrants’. A Freudian slip, perhaps?
All is fair in politics, and BJP is free to choose whichever campaign strategy it sees fit, but the spectacle of a galaxy of union cabinet ministers supplanting BJP’s state leaders last week and launching into a daily litany of angry press conferences against AAP will leave a taint not easily removable after the election is over. The Prime Minister’s four rallies were a steady descent into mud-slinging and name-calling that was unbecoming and unworthy of his office. The speeches just added to a growing sense that the PM is getting more and more out of touch in his South Block bubble. Jibes about the 10-lakh pinstriped suit he is said to have worn during the Obama trip are here to stay and getting embedded into his public persona.
Alongside the influx of BJP central leaders was the rapid diminishment of Kiran Bedi. By the end of this campaign she has been reduced to a forlorn and tragic figure, who melted under the microscopic scrutiny of the campaign trail. Her attempt to tame a rowdy crowd at the Modi rally in Dwarka and then refusal to continue her speech till they quietened down was truly bizarre and showcased her incomprehension of the new world she had chosen to enter with such hype. Her trials and tribulations proving once again that politics is not a spectator sport for amateur enthusiasts. There are no shortcuts to political proficiency.
I have no idea who will win on February 10 and I don’t trust opinion polls, which are too easily manipulated by media moguls and their political overlords. But in my opinion, partisan though it is, on the ground in Delhi the AAP campaign has dominated this race by starting first, turning back the initial antipathy, then building a feel-good factor, and finally delivering multiple overflowing jansabhas every single day with a laser focus on local issues that affect the daily lives of common people. The BJP campaign did not even get going till the last two weeks of the campaign. Amit Shah’s emphasis on booth and panna pramukhs is all well and good, but they were the last step in his multi-step master plan during the Lok Sabha elections that included a formidable candidate leading the charge and an easy target in the form of a Congress Party weakened by a blizzard of anti-incumbency. The much vaunted organisational prowess of the RSS is also largely restricted to preaching to the converted and increasing turnout among the faithful. Here too they will find that AAP volunteers have covered the same ground before them and repeatedly so. By now Amit Shah must be nostalgic for the Congress as an electoral adversary. You definitely don’t hear him repeat his favourite campaign line about a Congress-mukt Bharat nowadays. He is caught in an electoral battle where his party’s natural advantages have been undone by the unique political typography of Delhi and an adversary who is perfectly adapted to local conditions. Simply put, Amit Shah has insisted on trying to fight a tank battle in an urban warfare setting. The result has been ugly and the BJP’s scorched-earth campaign strategy will have implications for the Modi Government, irrespective of the electoral outcome.
To conclude, AAP has a leader who has proven his mettle, flanked by a solid and competent team, and they have a comprehensive agenda for Delhi’s future as can be seen in AAP’s manifesto. The BJP has a discombobulated CM-candidate, a fractious and dispirited state party which was shunted aside by central leaders during the campaign, and no governance plan other than more ill-defined promises in the form of a PR blitz costing unquantifiable crores. BJP is desperate to win this election so that the PM does not lose face this soon after the general election, local issues come a distant second on their list of priorities. The people of this great city deserve better. It is time for real change in Delhi—vote for AAP and let’s step into a better future together.