At the risk of once again being labelled an “AAP stooge” by miscellaneous BJP toffs, let it be said that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has secured for itself two powerful tailwinds. The first has been snatched from the Congress and some regional outfits, and the second from the BJP. Till the BJP leadership began to act and react as though the 7 February elections were not about the 70-member Delhi Assembly, but were in fact a re-run of the Lok Sabha polls, and used up its entire supply of heavy gunnery and ammunition on a party which gained from each volley fired at it by the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Home Minister, the Commerce Minister, the Energy Minister, the Telecom Minister … well, you get the drift of the story. The high level of BJP participation in the anti-AAP campaign ensured that the Delhi elections got national coverage. To now blame the media for paying excessive attention on Team Kejriwal is a bit ironic, in a context where Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was made by the BJP party leadership to take time off from his real work — running the Government of India — to deputize on too many occasions as the Campaign Committee chairperson for the Delhi polls. If the BJP saw the February 7 polls as important enough to warrant such an elaborate use of the Prime Minister’s time, it is inexplicable why they believe the media ought to have disagreed with its view and ignored the campaign. By its incessant focus on Arvind Kejriwal, the BJP ensured that those voters across India, who for good reasons or bad were negative towards the BJP and to Modi personally, would see Kejriwal as the challenger rather than (as was the case till now) Rahul Gandhi. The BJP’s campaign ensured that the AAP replaced the Congress as the perceived primary political threat to the BJP, and further replaced an ineffectual and largely absent Rahul Gandhi with a far more potent rival, Mr Muffler Man.
Thus, the anti-Modi, anti-BJP vote moved in hordes to the AAP from the Congress, which after the May 2014 polls had anyway begun to lose credibility as a party that could face up to the saffron brigade. And now the clincher which ensured a vote share of 54% to the AAP: the switch of the anti-Sonia Gandhi, anti-Congress vote from the BJP to the smaller party. During the Lok Sabha polls, by his rhetoric against the Gandhi family and his promise to ensure accountability for bigwigs in the UPA known to have enriched themselves in a miscellany of ways known to the investigative agencies, it had been Modi who had attracted the substantial voting bloc that saw the Congress and its supremo as toxic. Indeed, more than its fascination for holographic images, it was the belief that a BJP government would take expeditious steps to ensure that other UPA bigwigs went the A. Raja way (the latter took place during the much-derided regime of Manmohan Singh), which ensured a swelling of the BJP vote to a level sufficient to enable its majority in the Lok Sabha. However, since then, nine months have passed and those (clearly identified) super-rich UPA beneficiaries seem as unbothered by either the Income-Tax Department or the commercial banks or by the CBI or the DRI as they were when Manmohan Singh was PM. Although this is not exactly true, it is equally a fact that by now, many see the new government as being a continuation of the old, the only difference being a dynamic rather than a listless Prime Minister. The consequence of such perceived stasis has been disaffection within the anti-Congress vote bank with the Modi government, expressed on 7 February, when the bulk of them switched to the AAP.
When Narendra Modi talked of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”, he was believed. However, since then, both the powers as well as the attitude of both officials as well as their political masters have become almost as imperious as a Sonia sneer. This columnist knows several of the BJP spokespersons personally, and can vouch for their being courteous and polite, which is why it has been a shock to witness their daily rants against any individual who challenged their verdict that the people of Delhi would give in February 2015 the majority denied to the party in December 2013. The more powerful a person or a group is, the humbler should be its or his behaviour. Instead, the contrary seems to have been learnt, with the result that few of the independent voters now remain with the BJP, as shown in Delhi, but likely to get replicated elsewhere, should the leadership of India’s ruling party not enter into a ruthlessly honest stock-taking of its results, from Maharashtra to Delhi. Let it not be forgotten that even in Kashmir, where it had a party other than the Congress as its foe, the BJP did badly. And now Kejriwal (who has shrewdly declined to invite any Congress bigwig to his swearing-in) has emerged as a more reliable anti-Congress mascot than a BJP seen as being unexpectedly soft on the erstwhile government and its bag of scams.
Kejriwal is correct when he warns against arrogance. In large part, his victory was due less to an affinity with him than a growing distaste for the ways of the BJP, just as last year’s Lok Sabha verdict was less pro-BJP than it was anti-Congress. The BJP failed to heed that lesson in the belief that it was personality which won and not the policies proffered. If the AAP avoids such smugness and the BJP continues the way it has functioned since 26 May, Team Kejriwal could emerge with 200 seats and counting in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.