What The BJP Needs To Learn From The Politics Of AAP

22/02/2015 8:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 7: A saint showing his inked finger after casting his vote during the Delhi Assembly Elections 2015, on February 7, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Delhi is headed for a record turnout on Saturday as more than 69.5% of the city's 1.33 crore voters cast their ballot till 5pm. After a slow start in the morning, polling picked up around noon, with scores of people queuing up at booths to exercise their franchise in an electrifying electoral battle that the national capital has never witnessed before. 69.5 per cent of 1.3 voters had been inked by 5 pm on Saturday, as Delhi looked set for a record turnout after a slow morning. There are 673 candidates in the fray now. Voting is taking place in 11,763 centers, located in schools. Many initial voters in middle class and posh areas were early morning walkers. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

With an unprecedented victory in the assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will now need to deliver on the many promises it has made to the people of Delhi. But before we start scrutinising AAP's performance it is important to delve into what might have resulted in a wipe out for the BJP in Delhi. I believe that there are two important explanations for the BJP's decimation in the recent elections.

1. Politics of arrogance versus politics of humility

Having observed the goings on in Delhi over the last few weeks what stood out for me and several other Delhiites was the perceptible difference in the manner in which BJP and AAP conducted their election campaigns.

The BJP, still riding high on a spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections and subsequent assembly polls, came across as extremely confident - at times over-confident. The AAP, on the other hand, repeatedly admitted to making an error in judgement when they relinquished the opportunity to govern Delhi just 49 days after taking over the reins last year. Arvind Kejriwal himself assured the voters of Delhi that he had learnt from his mistake. The ability to publicly apologize for a seemingly hasty decision made people more than willing to give him a second chance.

Additionally, the demeanour of AAP leaders and spokespeople during television debates and public appearances was always approachable and down to earth. They voiced their opinions unambiguously but did not at any stage come across as arrogant. In fact, even when the AAP spokesman Raghav Chadha was repeatedly reminded by his BJP counterparts that he was still very new to politics and did not have the requisite experience he always managed to come up with a good natured response.

Simplicity and humility have in all likelihood been important influences in the Delhi elections. After all, in a country which is home to one-third of the world's poorest, fancy outfits and high teas with billionaires are simply not easily identifiable with the masses. On the other hand, Mr Kejriwal or 'Muffler Man' as he is popularly known has quite clearly endeared himself with the people of Delhi as an 'aam aadmi' (common man).

As a lady from an unauthorised colony in Delhi said to me: "Yahaan khaane ko nahin hai logon ke paas aur Obama ko bula rahe hain. Aur kya hua? Usne waapis jaake India ki burai hi toh ki (People don't have food to eat and Obama is being called here. And what happened? He went back and criticised India)."

2. Politics of negativity versus politics of hope

While the BJP highlighted the accomplishments of the national government over the last eight months, it was perhaps difficult for many Delhiites to relate to them since the ground reality has remained more or less the same in the city. Issues like water, cleanliness, electricity and women's safety are as challenging today as they were several months ago. In fact Kiran Bedi herself articulated the great divide that exists between the urban rich and the urban poor in the city. She also mentioned that she would have taken weeks to just clean up her own constituency had she been elected from there.

AAP through its Delhi Dialogue initiative and other small group interactions with people put forward a very locally relevant albeit ambitious agenda.

Additionally, the news stories of the last few months related to 'ghar wapsi' (homecoming), attacks on churches, communal polarisation and foot-in-mouth statements about the number of children Hindus should produce only took away from BJP's development plank.

The other mainstay of BJP's campaign in Delhi was attacking AAP leaders, including personal comments which came across as unnecessarily vicious at times. Of course, during election time the nature of political discourse is rarely friendly, however, the extent and nature of the personal attacks, including on 'Muffler Man' and his family, did not go down well with the electorate. The hue and cry over the Rs 2 crore funding 'scam' also did not stick perhaps because of the much larger donations received by other political parties that have rarely been the subject of any investigations.

There are many other elements that might have influenced the results including the last-minute induction of Ms. Kiran Bedi and fighting within the BJP Delhi unit. Also, Delhi isn't necessarily representative of the mood in the entire country. However, ignoring or dismissing the signals from the Delhi electorate could have even greater detrimental consequences for BJP in the future. It is imperative that the ruling party takes the Delhi annihilation seriously and ensures that the focus on development issues and more importantly delivery dominates over politics of arrogance and negativity. While repackaging the schemes and programmes of previous governments is perhaps a good start, the ruling party will need to ensure that there is a tangible difference in outcomes on the ground over the next few years. As for AAP, I hope that they will make the most of this opportunity and not let down the people of Delhi who have reposed immense faith in them.

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