It is not the BJP’s Hindutva-nationalism agenda that Kejriwal has defeated. If anything, he positioned himself as ‘Hindutva-nationalist lite’.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has delivered another emphatic win for his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This victory can be more significant than the last one as it was fighting as an incumbent and on its track record of governance of the last five years.
In a way, it has done in Delhi what the BJP did on the national scene in May last year.
Before drawing any conclusions, it is important to look at the facts.
Compared to 2015 assembly elections, BJP has increased its vote share by around seven percentage points.
Congress collapsed further and reduced its vote share by half from last poll. AAP managed to retain its vote bank and lost little less than one percentage point of the share.
Additionally, it is also pertinent to note that the BJP didn’t project a Chief Minister face. This allowed Arvind Kejriwal to choose his own proverbial straw man in Delhi BJP President Manoj Tiwari, striking him down by mocking him at every possible opportunity.
The BJP did little ground work in the last five years and entered the election arena in Delhi in the last 20 days of the campaign.
It put up a good fight and ran on nationalism and Hindutva. It paid off as is seen in the rise in its vote share.
But it wasn’t enough.
It made two mistakes: it didn’t groom a face to challenge Kejriwal and it didn’t appeal to local issues which matter more in assembly elections.
The BJP overestimated the influence of party MPs from Delhi who had only won riding on the coattails of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It probably thought that if it projected one individual, the Delhi party unit would be plunged into infighting.
The other reason for not projecting one person was the BJP strategy of giving all main CM contenders (and their supporters) hope that if the party wins, they would be selected to lead Delhi.
This worked well for the BJP in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, etc but it forgot that unlike in those states, the party was not fighting against an unpopular incumbent Chief Minister in Delhi.
Here, the party has again made the mistake of underestimating Kerjriwal who showed great restraint and discipline in picking and sticking to electoral issues that he was comfortable with. Another mistake was in underestimating the power of tangible deliverables - a factor whose power it should’ve understood from its own 2019 spectacular win.
Just like Modi government delivered cylinders, houses to tens of millions of poor, Kejriwal government cut down electricity bills, water bills, and even transportation costs (for women).
Delhi voters saw a visible trimming down of their expenditure. The labharthi (beneficiary) was a big silent factor of this election too.
The BJP also made a mistake in insulting the intelligence of voters. Rather than clearing the road occupied by Shaheen Bagh protesters which the Delhi Police under Home Minister Amit Shah could’ve easily done, it decided to play politics on it.
The voters probably don’t lilke impotence. They want action.
But more than focusing on why the BJP lost, the opposition would be better off in realising why AAP won as it has lessons for it.
First, there would be many who would pontificate how it’s defeat of BJP’s divisive and communal politics. Clearly, such analysts have not followed this election.
PM Modi and BJP have hinduised the politics and decisively shifted the Overton window towards the Hindu right.
Kejriwal cleverly dissociated himself from Shaheen Bagh drama and even challenged Home Minister Amit Shah to arrest Sharjeel Islam who called to break Assam and the north-east from India.
Kejriwal choreographed him singing Hanuman Chalisa in an interview and visited Hanuman temple before the election. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, he managed to convince the majority that he is a devout person and certainly not anti-Hindu as he was being branded.
That took away one of the biggest attacks on him from the BJP. It was enough for majority voters to shift their focus to development and local issues he was campaigning on.
Second, this is not a referendum against the so-called hyper nationalism of the BJP.
After learning his lesson from demanding proof of surgical strikes in 2016, Kejriwal went on to openly supporting abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and even on Citizenship Amendment Act, he opposed it on the basis that it will be an economic burden on the country.
It is not the BJP’s Hindutva-nationalism agenda that he has defeated. If anything, Kejriwal positioned himself as ‘Hindutva-nationalist lite’ while hammering the voters about his party’s work on education, healthcare, subsidies in the state.
The biggest takeaway from the Delhi debacle for the BJP is this: Its Hindutva-Nationalism is a winner but in Delhi the party needed couple of plus factors to take on a popular incumbent: a credible fresh face and a network of grassroots karyakartas who have ear to the ground and connected to aam aadmi (no pun intended).
Of course, one cannot overemphasise this enough: In the most urbanised cluster in the country, if Hindutva-Nationalism is winning, one can only imagine the effect in the countryside. And if the opposition were to interpret this result in a totally different fashion - as a defeat of Hindutva-Nationalism - then it has only itself to blame for its inevitable future drubbings.