Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad. The exit polls were spot on and AAP has swept back to power; at the time of my writing this, it is on the way to winning 62 of 70 seats, almost replicating its near-perfect 2015 tally. BJP has marginally improved from 3 to 8 seats, still in single digits, but can find some solace in the fact that their legislature party will no longer fit in an autorickshaw. There is no third party of consequence to speak of. And the unambiguous verdict from the voters of Delhi leaves no room for interpretation or spin; whether the BJP will heed the electoral message is another question altogether.
First and foremost, we can be thankful that the BJP’s campaign strategy of unadulterated hate and divisiveness was rejected. Had the result gone the other way, I shudder to think how far they would have gone in the upcoming Bihar and Bengal elections. At what point did Amit Shah decide to don the mantle of de facto Chief Ministerial candidate and campaign in every nook and cranny of Delhi, unleashing diatribe after diatribe, I am not sure, but it was clearly a gambit that backfired. Now the responsibility for the defeat falls squarely on his shoulders; rumblings within the RSS were being heard a day ahead of the results and could well grow in the days ahead.
After a series of electoral setbacks in state after state since his re-election last year, the Prime Minister now faces an important choice: whether to continue on the path of Hindutva that his Home Minister has spearheaded these last months at the cost of continued domestic unrest and opprobrium from abroad. Second terms have always caused problems for Prime Ministers fortunate enough to be re-elected. Shri Modi faces with a moribund economy, fading international reputation, and a protest movement across India that refuses to subside. If he does not rein in his Home Minister and change course towards a less ideological and confrontational domestic agenda, his avid hopes for a legacy of economic prosperity and overseeing India’s rise on the world stage will likely come to naught. But altering course is not something the Prime Minister has shown an inclination to do in the past.
As for AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, this is another famous victory and another chance to take a place on the national stage. Many mistakes were made from the same position five years ago. Infighting started almost from the start, coinciding with a full-on war with the Modi Government, and inexperience in administration caused many unforced errors like the real threat of disqualification of 20-odd MLAs for holding an office of profit. But the most glaring flaw holding back AAP from growing outside Delhi has been an inability to attract and hold political talent from outside the founding members of the party. The debacle in Punjab was a direct result of this problem. We shall have to see if an older and wiser Arvind Kejriwal will make changes in this regard.
It pains me greatly to say this, but Prashant Kishor deserves credit for helping run the most disciplined AAP campaign ever, no easy feat considering the more chaotic campaign style that AAP has been accustomed to. The political mercenary even tamed Kejriwal’s instinct to counter-punch at a moment’s notice without thinking through the possible repercussions. There was a calmer and smiling Delhi Chief Minister on display in this campaign. You could say it looked and felt inauthentic compared to his insurgent campaign style of old, but there’s no arguing with the results.
How this result alters the national political situation is less clear. Any defeat for the Modi-Shah campaign machine weakens the central government’s ability to impose its will on its alliance partners in the near future, that’s for sure. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will be an interesting individual to watch as we approach elections in his state later this year. However, AAP supported the government on the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir and did not make its opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act an issue in the campaign, wisely steering clear of the protests and basing its campaign on its record of local governance. By all accounts, this was a ‘Modi for PM and Kejriwal for CM’ election. In a Lok Sabha election, the floating vote in Delhi is still likely to vote for Modi. Kejriwal had no challenger at the state-level and Modi has none at the national-level. At least thus far.
(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and political commentator.)
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