How Kejriwal used Modi mantra in Delhi to beat him at his own game

Nikhil Rampal
Nikhil RampalFeb 13, 2020 | 19:31

How Kejriwal used Modi mantra in Delhi to beat him at his own game

From saying there is no alternative to Kejriwal to ridiculing his opponent, the Delhi CM followed the Modi script to the last word.

Powered by the broom, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has swept the Delhi Assembly polls for the second time in a row. In 2013, the party managed to win just 28 of the 70 seats, but in 2015, it got 67 and then in 2020, it bagged 62.

Various explanations have been given for AAP’s performance in the elections. Some have even called it a “defeat of hate politics and and a mandate for development”.

In my opinion, however, Delhi chief minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal hasn't waved a magic wand and done something unprecedented in Indian politics. On the contrary, Kejriwal has used Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cheat sheet to win the state polls.

kejriwal-690_021320064227.jpgArvind Kejriwal has used Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cheat sheet to win the state polls. (Photo: Twitter)

There are solid grounds to make this assertion.

Building the There Is No Alternative (TINA) narrative

One of the best ways to assure victory is to reduce competition. A narrative that started right after the 2014 national elections posed a question in front of voters: “If not Modi, then who?” That question remains unanswered (on the national stage) in the minds of many voters.

Various rounds of the Mood Of The Nation survey conducted by India Today reveal that Modi is ahead of his opponents by leaps and bounds when it comes to people's choice for PM.

Sensing this, the BJP had to become more of Modi and less of BJP. This is quite evident from the fact that the most catchy and trendy hashtags and catchphrases such as 'Ab ki Baar Modi Sarkar', 'Modi Phir Se', etc all echo Modi’s name. In his poll speeches, you would find that even the PM used more Modi than BJP.

Similarly, right after Arvind Kejriwal became the CM of Delhi, he began to be constantly projected as the face of AAP.

The slogan that the AAP used this election was, “Acche Beete Paanch Saal, Lage Raho Kejriwal” (five years went well, keep going Kejriwal). The slogan does not mention AAP at all. Like Modi, Kejriwal became a cult figure, even if only in Delhi, whose aura would work to win Delhiites over.

There was no unanimous answer when Modi critics were asked, “If not Modi, then who?” The same situation was replicated in Delhi. When die-hard BJP supporters were asked, “If not Kejriwal, then who,” they were found to be fumbling for answers.

The India Today Axis My India Exit Poll survey showed 54 per cent respondents wanted to see Kejriwal as their CM, while only 21 per cent wanted BJP's Manoj Tiwari.

In the absence of availability of strong opponents or alternatives, Kejriwal inevitably became the obvious choice.

Ridicule thy opponent

To keep the TINA factor relevant, making your opponent look weaker is important. In the pre-Modi era, Rahul Gandhi was emerging as a youth icon. In the Modi era, whether by fake news, or by Gandhi's ill-timed vacations, the Congress leader became a favourite of trolls, if not voters. He no longer holds the heroic charm he did 8-10 years ago.

By ridiculing Gandhi, giving him tags like ‘Pappu’ and by unleashing a meme factory against him, the BJP ensured that Rahul Gandhi remained the weaker and laughable opponent.

Kejriwal followed the script. After Kiran Bedi lost the election in 2015, the BJP could not find a match for Kejriwal. In November 2019, when Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced that the BJP would bank on Manoj Tiwari’s popularity to win votes in Delhi, AAP was clear about its strategy.

The moment the 2020 Delhi battle turned into Kejriwal versus Tiwari, the AAP dug out crude music videos of the singer-turned-politician to ridicule him. His song ‘Baby Beer Peeke’ was widely shared on social media, much to BJP’s embarrassment. On social media, where AAP and AAP-sympathtic handles asked the Delhi voters whether they'd want such a CM. This evoked a lot of anti-BJP replies.

Social media management

India has changed a lot since the 2014 election. The increase in the penetration of internet and the following rise in the number of social media users has forced political parties to take their campaigns from huge stages to smaller screens.

For the promotion of their content, they also pay a hefty amount to social media websites and apps.

In order to promote its content on the social media networking giant Facebook, the BJP and pro-Modi fan pages had spent roughly Rs 8 crore on Facebook advertisements in a matter of just eight weeks.

The BJP’s own page had spent roughly Rs 2.6 crore during that time, which was nearly thrice the amount its opponent Indian National Congress spent.

In Delhi elections, the pro-AAP and Kejriwal pages spent roughly Rs 0.5 crore on Facebook political ads in four weeks — four times higher than the BJP.

The Vikas story

Finally, the narrative being built around Kejriwal’s victory has development as one of the key reasons why Delhi voted in droves for the AAP. The India Today Data Intelligence Unit found that the AAP government had scored 62 per cent approval in terms of the ability to fulfil promises it made in its 2020 manifesto.

Massive advertisements and marketing ensured that the narrative of development in Delhi elections doesn’t lose its pitch the same way it didn't in the Lok Sabha polls for PM Modi.

In 2014 it was Gujarat, in 2019 it was his schemes — Ujjwala, Jan Dhan Yojana, Awas Yojana, LED Bulbs, Mudra loans etc. The merits and demerits of these schemes is a different topic altogether, but the message was clear — do the work and advertise. The BJP benefited from it, so did Kejriwal.

Kejriwal, who called PM Modi a “psychopath” in 2015, won hearts on social media after he thanked the latter for his good wishes.

Now, he seeks Modi’s cooperation to transform Delhi into a world-class city.

All that we saw in Delhi elections was basically a replay of the BJP’s success story in the Lok Sabha elections. Except, that this time, the protagonists and the opponents had changed.

The politics hadn’t.

Last updated: February 13, 2020 | 19:31
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