Originally Published 2015-02-12 00:00:00 Published on Feb 12, 2015
Unlike the BJP, the focus of the AAP's campaign was not on lofty slogans, such as making a Delhi a 'smart city', but on issues that mattered to the public. No wonder it is commonly said that one should never underestimate the power of the common man.
Vote, both negative and positive

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has, once again, stunned poll pundits by scripting a landslide victory at the Delhi Assembly election. The fledgling party, which is only two-and-a-half years old, has won almost all the seats in the 70-member house.

This marks a huge improvement even on its 2013 performance when the party had similarly surprised many election watchers by winning an unexpected 28 seats. In the process, it had effectively denied a clean majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was expecting to cruise to victory but was cut off before the half-way (even though it managed to win the largest number of seats in the Delhi Assembly).

This time around, the exit polls had predicted that the AAP would push the BJP to the second position, obliterate the Congress and return to power. The prediction, expectedly, was dismissed by both the BJP and the Congress. The BJP particularly seemed confident of forming the Government even if it had to face a tough fight from the AAP.

After all, it was only nine months ago that the party had created history during the 2014 general election. Under the leadership of Mr Narendra Modi, the BJP had made won a landslide victory. The party had also won crucial State Assembly elections in the months afterwards. However, it was only in the last two months that the party had shifted its focus to the Delhi Assembly election.

Though, technically, the race was between the chief ministerial candidates of both two parties - the BJP's Kiran Bedi and the AAP's Arvind Kejriwal - there was the inescapable Modi factor in the mix. Many had worried that BJP voters riding on the Modi wave may not come out in large numbers. But, on February 7, the day of voting, Delhi saw a record turnout of 67.10 per cent - yet again dismissing expert wisdom that a poll-weary electorate would stay away from the polling stations.

The big question then is: What went wrong with the BJP in this election? Several factors, actually. First, the BJP made a big mistake by appointing Ms Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate. This can be said with a degree of surety, now that we have the advantage of hindsight. The appointment of Ms Bedi, and that too fairly late in the game, was solely to counter Mr Kejriwal's candidature. The BJP had sensed that the AAP was gaining ground in the city-State and was desperate to contain the latter.

However, the Bedi card backfired. The former IPS officer was roundly criticised for jumping ship. She had been with India Against Corruption earlier and at that time had led a strong campaign against corruption along with Kejriwal. She also did not have enough time to settle into her new party and win over the support of the BJP cadre.

Second, the emphasis of some BJP leaders on the Hindutva agenda, such as exhorting Hindu women to bear four children, put off the voters. Equally, the refusal of top BJP leaders to speak out against communal politics was seen as tacit endorsement of the same by the voters. For example, the party was quick to condemn Islamist terror attacks in Paris and Peshawar but could not be bothered to come out against the attack on churches in the national capital.

Third, the BJP also failed to provide a holistic vision for Delhi's development and progress. Instead, of a manifesto for the city-state, it unveiled a Vision Document which lacked a political punch. This hurt its campaign further.

Fourth, the AAP was able to reconstruct itself before the Assembly election. It came up with new ideas, better definitions of development and a well-defined blueprint for Delhi. It created the possibility of a new kind of governance and was seen to be more focussed on politics rather than power. The party was able to garner the support of young professionals, the elite as well as the lower and upper middle class.

The AAP also tasted success with the volunteer model of party politics. This allowed the outfit to reach out to different sections of society and address the issues of the common man. Reportedly, the party relied primarily on public funding and sought to make its entire financial system transparent and accountable to the citizens.

The BJP realised that its competition was no longer with the Congress but with the AAP a little too late. The saffron party tried to play some dirty politics with aggressive radio commercials and newspaper advertisements but nothing really helped its case. Unlike the BJP, the focus of the AAP's campaign was not on lofty slogans, such as making a Delhi a 'smart city', but on issues that mattered to the public. No wonder it is commonly said that one should never underestimate the power of the common man.

Let us also look at the some of the key issues in this election and how the two parties addressed them. One of the main issues was corruption. To address this issue, the BJP appointed Ms Bedi as its chief ministeral candidate who she could bring the tag of honest and clean governance. The AAP, on the other hand, had taken concrete steps on the anti-corruption front, as was seen during its first 49-day tenure. The party also promised to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill and bring all public servants within its purview. This again was seen as a concrete policy proposal.

The second major issue in Delhi was that of women's safety. The AAP has promised to install close-circuit televisions across the national capital to counter crimes against women. This will help form a citizen security force to provide security. The BJP's Ms Bedi, on the other hand, declared a 25 point programme for women's safety along with six 'Ps' - People, Politician, Police, Prosecution, Prison and Press. Interestingly, neither party addressed the issue of 'freedom' for women.

The third issue that was raised by the AAP was that of full statehood for Delhi. In BJP's vision document, this issue was nowhere to be seen. Yet, statehood for Delhi is necessary in order to ensure that the implementation process by the local Government speeds up. This is also important to improve law and order in Delhi. Once statehood is granted, Delhi Government's decisions can be implemented faster.

For now, Mr Kejriwal is all prepared to create history again and bring a wave of change in Delhi. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing even for the BJP - after all, let's not forget the old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

(The writer is a research assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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