It would have been impossible to imagine just a few months ago that people would vote outside the grasp of their ideology or out of blind loyalty. But the 2020 Delhi election has shown just that. With the Bharatiya Janata Party getting over 55 per cent vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha election just a year ago, a massive chunk of the same people has propelled the Aam Aadmi Party to victory with nearly 54 per cent vote share. How can the same voters choose two different parties? What explains this new voter behaviour in the 2020 Delhi assembly election?
Many would explain this away by saying that Indians have begun to understand the difference between Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections – like we have seen in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. But still, how does it explain voting for two opposing political parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – in such overwhelming numbers in just a few months’ time?
At the heart of this phenomenon is the strong influence of the personalities of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People want a leader who exudes strength, and in Kejriwal and Modi, they saw a credible and capable face. Why they see this is up for debate.
Return of ‘TINA’ factor
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the only opposing face was Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. He not only had the baggage of his dynastic background, but he was also a victim of consistent social media propaganda and mockery, including those carried out by the mainstream media. All these factors destroyed his reputation. He was simply not a credible alternative and choice compared to Modi. Special thanks to a pliable, fawning media that conducted a series of scripted interviews full of nonsensical questions to lift up Modi’s image and create a fake aura around him. So, it wasn’t a surprise that people saw a better leader in Modi.
In the Delhi election, a similar thing happened. No credible opposition face was there to counter Arvind Kejriwal’s appeal. No matter how much Home Minister Amit Shah and Modi tried to project their faces forward, people were clever enough to figure out that Manoj Tiwari was the only leader the BJP had to offer. Tiwari’s own reputation was tarnished by his past antics in Bigg Boss and some of his old songs like Baby beer pike nache.
Not even Modi supporters took him seriously, just like many in the Congress didn’t rally behind their leader Rahul Gandhi.
In the end, there was one common factor in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2020 Delhi assembly elections – the TINA factor, which stands for ‘there is no alternative’.
The media did try its best to destroy Arvind Kejriwal’s reputation too. But unlike Rahul Gandhi and Manoj Tiwari, Arvind Kejriwal did not carry the baggage of his past. In fact, his past qualifications – IIT graduate, stint with the IRS, and the leader of India Against Corruption movement – lifted his image. That meant an easier battle against the media and IT Cell propaganda.
Moreover, Kejriwal was clever enough to hit back by actually giving interviews to these media channels in the form of town halls. This was a super-effective strategy. Not only did it help him enter people’s dining room conversations but it also gave him an opportunity to put his agenda forward clearly. The audience in these town halls clapped and cheered on every answer Kejriwal gave. People saw his clear-cut replies that strengthened his reputation as a strong-willed doer.
This phenomenon is not new. It’s the same structure that explains the Congress’s victory in the 2017 Punjab assembly election. Captain Amarinder Singh was the party’s strong face. The story was similar in Rajasthan, where the Congress had popular, established leaders in Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot.
We have entered an era of personality politics once again – after a long lull since Indira Gandhi. Indians are craving for CEO-style decisive leadership.
The lesson for all political parties here is to project strong state leaders if they want to win assembly elections. We might also eventually see presidential-style TV debates among Indian politicians.
Finally, there is also a lesson for the Congress. If the party wants to give itself any chance in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, it must choose its PM face right now – that person must be someone other than Rahul Gandhi – and then establish him/her as a better alternative to Modi. Fighting against biased media propaganda using the Kejriwal strategy might just turn the tables.
The author is an activist and YouTuber. Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.