AAP ’s landslide win may turn a game-changer in national politics

S.Nagesh Kumar

It will be a taller Arvind Kejriwal wielding much more influence on national politics who will take oath for the second time as Chief Minister of Delhi at Ramlila Maidan on February 14, exactly one year after he resigned from his forgettable first stint.

Acknowledging the rise in the AAP leader’s stature, JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar of Bihar and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, both of whom are feeling BJP’s heat, were quick to congratulate Kejriwal. He has turned out the proverbial David by halting BJP’s march and puncturing the pride of the Goliath. BJP’s ally Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray summed up the Delhi outcome pithily when he said, “tsunami is bigger than a wave. Don’t take the voter for granted”.

A tsunami it was. AAP’s in-house exit polls gave it only 51 seats compared to 67 it ultimately won as against three of the BJP. An indication of the BJP’s impending disaster was given by the RSS when it debunked its claims of getting a simple majority in the 70-member Delhi Assembly. The RSS should know better since thousands of its volunteers had descended on the national capital in a desperate last-minute bid to swing votes in BJP’s favour.

Voters forgave Kejriwal for past blunders

For all the flak he faced for being a `bhagoda’ (a person who runs away), Arvind Kejriwal’s impetuous decision to resign as Delhi Chef Minister 49 days into office after the Janlokpal Bill fiasco has obviously not turned against him. Voters chose to be indulgent and decided to give him a second chance after his foolhardy decision to quit.

They have accepted the unconditional apology tendered by him, perhaps in realization of the fact that issues of the 2013 Assembly elections had remained the same – the weekly haftas demanded by local policemen from thela walas and small shopkeepers, the fear of a hike in electricity and water bills which he had reduced during his short stint. People of Delhi have given him a landslide majority unlike as in 2013 when he had to fall back on support on Congress. It was a party whose ethos and culture he had been opposing. It was a culture of dynastic politics, of nexus with big and powerful businessmen, of servitude, of corruption and treating Muslims and other minorities as vote banks.

On the flip side, the unprecedented majority will raise people’s expectations from AAP and lead to unforgiving criticism in the absence of any Opposition worth the name in the Delhi Assembly, barring the three BJP members. Mr. Kejriwal’s exhortation to party MLAs in his maiden speech not to allow the victory to go their heads and to not become arrogant is timely. It was exactly this superciliousness and overconfidence that proved BJP’s undoing in Delhi. Had it conducted the Assembly elections immediately after the Lok Sabha polls in last May, the results might have been different. It had swept all the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi in 2014.

BJP committed one mistake after another

Surveys conducted as recently as in November 2014 showed that the BJP would sail through with 46 seats. But, to use a cliché, the party managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory while AAP did just the opposite. By the time, BJP president called in the cavalry in the form of 100 party MPs, dozens of Central Ministers and nearly one lakh footsoldiers of BJP and RSS, the mood had swung AAP’s way while the Congress began collapsing like a pack of cards, very rapidly. In cricketing parlance, the Congress scored a duck.

Curiously, even in its annihilation, the Congress played a significant role as almost 60 per cent of its vote share in the 2013 Assembly (24.55 per cent) shifted to AAP giving the latter a whopping 54.3 per cent of the votes, up from 29.49 per cent in the previous Assembly elections. In stark contrast, the BJP’s vote share dipped by less than one per cent to 32.1 percent (from 33.07 percent in 2013) in but it cost the party 28 seats. All the party’s stalwarts including Chief Ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi as also defectors were defeated. It was a consolidation of the anti-BJP vote in favour of the AAP.

The Delhi elections hold out important lessons not just for the BJP and Congress, but for all parties not to pre-suppose the voters’ mood. Amit Shah’s strategizing and micro-level management came a cropper in the face of guerilla tactics of Kejriwal and his band of merry politicians who performed flash mob dances, ran the campaign wearing branded jeans and AAP topi and spoke an idiom that was totally different from parties that wholly relied on vote banks. The BJP walked into Kejriwal’s trap of challenging it to name its CM candidate. The saffron party obliged by nominating Ms. Kiran Bedi and paid a heavy price.

While jubilant supporters of AAP all over the country are celebrating, Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee are a relieved lot as the BJP would be turning its attention on setting its own house in order before focusing on destabilizing the JD (U) Government in Bihar and the TMC Government in West Bengal.

The Delhi developments will surely rejuvenate the Opposition that is in disarray ever since the Modi juggernaut began rolling nine months ago. Mr. Modi himself will have to trade his pinstripe suit costing Rs. 10 lakh for something more humble and less expensive so that he can truly connect to people living in slums in Delhi and villages on its outskirts.

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