67 out of 70 seats – it is rare. No one including anyone in AAP had expected it to be so exceptionally well. But the results are here now. What AAP did right was it played its cards well and let the ‘perceptions’ work on public sentiments.
And perceptions did deliver for Kejriwal, based on his performance as the chief minister last time and BJP’s handling of Delhi polls this time.
The apology and overcoming the ‘deserter tag’: Leaving Delhi midway in February 2014, just after 49 days in the government to pursue an agenda to score in national politics, was clearly seen as a selfish act by Arvind Kejriwal.
Though Kejriwal tried all to justify his ‘act’ saying it was not a ‘deserter act’ and he didn’t betray the trust of Delhiites, and rather he was forced to take a moral stand as he was not being allowed to pass his Jan Lokpal Bill, he was later on forced to realize and apologise.
However, once the sense prevailed, no matter how, he kept on repeating his ‘apology’ saying ‘we committed mistake’ while requesting people to judge him and his party by his work of 49 days and what he could do based on that if he was given the full five years.
Turning 49 days of governance into an asset: The ‘deserter tag’ had become the main talking point on every political opponent’s agenda for targeting Kejriwal and Kejriwal had to overcome it to win the trust of voters again and the best way to do so was to make his ’49 days of governance’ a lucrative proposition.
And AAP could do it successfully as there were indeed praiseworthy elements to talk about Kejriwal’s governance. There were indeed millions – from the poor in the slums, from lower and middle income areas, street vendors, auto drivers, traders – who experienced extortion and corruption free days when police, MCD and routine office corruption (even in regional transport offices) were effectively kept in check. AAP’s water and power subsidies were implemented as promised.
For voters, oppressed under a system that makes corruption a part of life, these steps were big enough to ignore the wrongs of AAP then (and even now), as evident by the historic mandate to the latest serious debutante in Indian politics.
And the thought of having such days for full five years can be a big motivator for voters of Delhi and Arvind Kejriwal and AAP have been able to convey this effectively countering the ignominy of the ‘deserter tag’.
Comprehensive ground work: It was not in November when the Lieutenant-Governor finally decided that polls were the only option to resolve Delhi’s political deadlock or not in January when the Election Commission notified the polls, in fact, AAP had started working in Delhi soon after the Lok Sabha polls.
Though there were efforts to form a government somehow in Delhi and even AAP was party to such developments, the scene was never clear and the party kept of lubricating its machinery to go in full throttle once the polls were in clear sight and that happened in late last October. On the other hand, winner of the 2013 assembly polls, BJP, was busy in pursuing its political interest in other states, taking Delhi lightly, even if the Delhi BJP was a divided house. And Congress was piling up electoral humiliations one after the other.
Once it became clear that polls had become necessary, AAP launched its campaign to cover Delhi comprehensively, focusing on person to person contact with a positively themed campaign, loaded with freebies and goodies. And it was helped well with their clean image and the background of anti-corruption activism.
Dislodging BJP’s state president: Irrespective of the stature Satish Upadhyay enjoyed in Delhi, whose elevation displeased many in Delhi BJP, his demotion pushing him to the periphery after AAP’s ‘hit and run’ allegation on him having nexus with Delhi power distribution companies (that allegedly hurt the power consumers), helped AAP getting the initial advantage needed to build further on.
The timing of Kiran Bedi’s sudden induction and Satish Upadhyay’s sidelining after AAP’s allegation were certainly not isolated developments.
BJP’s counter reaction on allegation was a routine retort. Instead of taking on AAP with conviction, the party chose to sacrifice Upadhyay. That sent the message that BJP was getting defensive (and so there was some truth in the allegation). Bedi’s sudden elevation, when seen in context of Narendra Modi’s January 10 rally launching BJP’s Delhi campaign that performed below expectations and sidelining of Upadhyay after the allegation, further conveyed that the party was in panic.
It bolstered AAP’s campaign in the final crucial days after the poll date announcement.
Largely positive campaigning: Yes there were negative elements but they were more like aberrations when seen in the context of the overall AAP campaign.
Though AAP reiterated most of what it had promised in its 2013 poll manifesto, its leaders went on talking about them empathically while interacting with people, while appealing for votes. They focused on their own agenda while targeting the opponents and didn’t follow the negative way of campaigning that BJP and Congress resorted to. They seldom got personal, something that we saw in Kiran Bedi’s case. While Bedi did attack Kejriwal personally, senior AAP leaders including Kejriwal desisted from launching personal attack on Kejriwal’s ‘India Against Corruption’ colleague. AAP’s personal attacks on Kiran Bedi were mostly to reply Bedi’s personal attacks, like calling Kejriwal ‘bhagora (someone who ran away).
Elements like asking voters to film those offering money to vote for other parties and the subsequent duel for it that he had with the Election Commission, or campaign rhetoric like ‘some manipulated sting operation may be shown to tarnish AAP’s image in the final days of campaigning’ were in acceptable line of survival instincts for a party with limited resources that was taking on the might of the likes of BJP and Congress with billions on their disposal.
Kejriwal is not an angry soul anymore: Arvind Kejriwal looks much more relaxed and composed now. The mufflerman has become a face that mostly smiles back. That tells how quickly he has transformed to understand the nuances of Indian politics. The ‘activist to politician’ metamorphosis is complete it seems.
He did not target Narendra Modi. He said he would not respond to the personal attacks on him and maintained his stand. Kiran Bedi targeted him but he invited her for public debate requesting the BJP CM nominee to unblock him from her Twitter account.
Except Satish Upadhyay ‘expose’ (in fact, no expose at all), he largely did not practice his ‘hit and run’ style of campaigning. Instead, he utilized his energy in intensive campaigning addressing people and holding over hundred public meetings across Delhi. He was accessible to everyone.
He did not slip even when the government declined his request for the Republic Day Parade invitation and BJP leaders including Kiran Bedi mocked him. Even if Kejriwal had threatened to derail the Republic Day function in 2014, the government had no right to ridicule him this time, and that too, when Kiran Bedi was there in the front row of the Republic Day Parade. It certainly didn’t go well with the watchers (the voters).
His humility, coupled with his hard work, has served him an exceptional return, and all who have voted for him would pray that he returns it with an equally exceptional governance.
Acting politically correct: To correct a system, one needs to be part of it – okay, it cannot be said that AAP is here for political activism to cleanse politics as they always say unless we see them doing so consistently over some years – but they are well, part of the system now – and they are trying to act politically correct, speaking to every religion and class, not sounding pro to some while discriminating against others.
A day before Delhi votes, Arvind Kejriwal visited holy places of all four major religions that matter in Delhi polls to seek blessings. His party vocally declined Imam Bukhari’s pledge of support. His party’s spokesperson was detained while protesting against the acts of vandalism in Delhi churches.
Also, he was readily accessible to media this time. The media bashing by AAP didn’t make for headlines in these polls. Instead, he used media mileage to further his campaign meticulously, making it an important element of his campaign mix.
Targeting voters across the sections of society while maintaining the secular plank: AAP’s immediate refusal to Imam Bukhari”s offer of support was to further consolidate its position, especially in targeting and attracting the vote share of Congress and how successful it has been becomes evident from the poll percentage of different parties.
While BJP had a marginal dip from its 2013 poll % (32.3% from 33.07%), it was Congress that lost its major chunk to AAP, coming down to 9.7% from 24.55% of 2013. Also, AAP’s rise from 29.5% in 2013 to 54.3% now, a jump of 24%, tells that in addition of Congress, AAP ate into the pie of others as well, if not BJP.
AAP tried to reach out to its traditional votebanks as well as those who had been traditionally voting for Congress. It also tried to reach out to those who voted for BJP in the Lok Sabha polls – upper middle class and youth. AAP designed its campaign and manifesto not on caste and religion and but on income and age-groups and Delhi’s population composition has majority of low and middle income people and migrants who came in search of livelihood.
More than half of the votes cast, something that happens rarely in India, tells us that AAP got support from every section of the society. According to different post-poll analyses, while poor, lower and middle income segments, Muslims and youth voted overwhelmingly for AAP, even in the higher income groups, a considerable chunk voted for the party.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–/