Once the result is out, every election looks like a foregone conclusion. But Arvind Kejriwal didn’t have to win today to prove that. A third term for the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi was never guaranteed. For a lot of reasons, this is an extraordinary achievement.
- Anti-incumbency, what’s that?
Defeating the Modi-Shah juggernaut in Delhi, twice in a row with a landslide, the AAP’s achievement is a rarity. Not many opposition leaders have been able to survive Narendra Modi’s popularity or Amit Shah’s machinations. Modi is so popular that he won more than 50 per cent votes for the BJP in much of north India, including Delhi, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, .
Modi is so popular that the BJP wins states like Uttar Pradesh without declaring a CM candidate. Amit Shah is said to be the Chanakya of Indian politics who can supposedly turn the impossible into possible.
The AAP is outmatched several times over by the BJP in terms of resources, media sympathy, cadres, donors and, arguably, even institutional bias of Delhi Police and the Election Commission. Despite that, the AAP has managed to beat anti-incumbency, losing only on a few seats over the incredulous 67:3 mandate in the 2015 Delhi assembly election. To repeat the feat, with another two-thirds majority, is a stunning achievement.
This election was far tougher for the AAP than the 2015 one. There was no Kiran Bedi who took the BJP campaign downhill in the last two weeks. On the contrary, the BJP campaign raised its pitch by making it a Shah-versus-Kejriwal election. In 2015, the AAP was still a fresh phenomenon with public curiosity to try it out. But in 2020, the party faced “anti-incumbency”. In 2015, the BJP campaign was not as polarising on religious lines as in 2020.
2. Modi tried everything to not let AAP govern:
Delhi was already a partial state, with crucial subjects like law and order and land under the central government. But after the humiliating defeat of 67:3 in 2015, the Modi government tried to make the AAP-led Delhi government as weak and powerless as possible. The lieutenant governor of Delhi, Anil Baijal, would veto everything that the AAP government wanted to do.
The anti-corruption bureau was taken away from the AAP government to prevent the latter from reducing petty corruption, which it had managed to do in its first stint that lasted 49 days in 2013. Early on, the AAP made noise about the throttling of the state government with the slogan, “Woh pareshan karte rahe, hum kaam karte rahe” (We kept working despite their harassment). But then the AAP realised this could backfire. If the AAP kept complaining about not being allowed to work, voters might have said, too bad, let’s bring the BJP then.
With very limited room, the AAP made the best of what it had — publicising even the smallest of efforts and winning public approval.
3. Congress splitting the anti-Modi vote:
In states like Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is blamed as a vote spoiler, dividing anti-BJP votes. The Congress can’t win against the BJP but doesn’t let other liberal parties win either. The same problem exists in Delhi.
The Congress won more votes that the AAP in Delhi in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Remember how the Congress humiliated the AAP for its proposal to enter into a pre-poll alliance for the Lok Sabha. But Arvind Kejriwal does not use the Congress as a dog-ate-my-homework excuse. He campaigns to win on his two feet, taking on the Congress, the BJP, BSP, JDU, RJD, LJP or whoever there is in the field.
4. Hindutva onslaught:
About 40 per cent voters in Delhi are upper-caste Hindus. Only 14 per cent are Muslims. This makes Delhi a fertile ground for the BJP to play its Hindutva card. The RSS has always been strong here. Particularly in the 2020 election, the BJP used Hindutva so strongly that it had almost nothing else to offer. It accused the AAP of minority appeasement and of supporting anti-CAA protests (which in principle it does).
This election took place against the backdrop of Ram Mandir, Article 370 and CAA-NPR-NRC. In these circumstances, most liberal-minded people and parties tend to give in and give up, wrongly presuming that Hindutva alone is enough for voters to choose the BJP.
The AAP not only takes a centrist, hands-off position in every election, it also does everything possible to foreground governance as its electoral agenda, and prevent the BJP’s politics of polarisation from becoming the core conversation.
5. Punjab, MCD and Lok Sabha setbacks:
The Aam Aadmi Party had put all its efforts in winning the Punjab assembly election in 2017, so much so that it almost gave up on governing Delhi in 2016. The defeat in Punjab demoralised the party and Kejriwal went into a sulk.
Soon after, there were Delhi municipal polls which the AAP was too demoralised to try and win. It won a poor 26 per cent vote share. In the Lok Sabha 2019 election, the AAP stood third, winning none of the seven seats. This was just nine months ago. After such repeated setbacks, to win a stupendous two-thirds majority now is to overcome a lot.
6. BJP had five years to prepare:
The BJP lost badly in 2015. It won just three of the 70 seats, barely a year after Modi won a majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. For that embarrassment, the BJP must have devised a lot of strategy to defeat the AAP in 2020. It stymied the AAP government, filed countless frivolous cases against AAP MLAs and made efforts to woo the Purvanchali vote base with a Bhojpuri star — MP Manoj Tiwari — as its Delhi face. And yet the BJP hasn’t been able to make a dent in the AAP’s magical hold over Delhi voters.
7. Inconsistent messaging by AAP:
The AAP, however, wasn’t short of its own mistakes: forgetting governance in Delhi to win Punjab, becoming arrogant and authoritarian after winning 67 seats in 2015, being seen as absent when Delhi was overcome with water-borne diseases, looking silly with personal attacks on PM Modi, unable to solve big issues like bus shortage and air pollution and becoming risk-averse after losing the Punjab and the Delhi municipal polls.
These made the AAP’s five-year tenure look rather inconsistent and confusing. And yet, with some efforts in sectors such as education, health, electricity, water and infrastructure like sewage lines, the AAP pulled the governance narrative back in its favour.
The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.