How the Delhi voter will respond to poll polemics

Palash Krishna Mehrotra
Palash Krishna MehrotraFeb 08, 2020 | 10:51

How the Delhi voter will respond to poll polemics

The BJP's campaign has been consistently marked by brazen provocation and backtracking.

A teacher of mine, Mr Rodericks, used to warn us about our tongues falling prey to 'Bay of Bengal language'.

He meant not the big-ticket abuses, but the smaller ones of the 'abey' and 's***ey' variety.

Yes, there was a time not too far ago when even these were frowned upon in polite society. If a poet used them in poems it was considered trangressive and bold.

Agenda on the Right

These days, come election time, Bay of Bengal language is everywhere, the latest being: 'Desh ke gaddaron ko/ Goli maaro s***o ko'. Manoj Tiwari, who leads the Delhi BJP, denied this on television.

He said: "Anurag Thakur only mentioned the first line [the technical truth], the people supplied the rest." The implication being: One can't control what people say. The BJP's campaign has been consistently marked by this kind of brazen provocation and backtracking.

Its obsession with manipulating the narrative has meant that there hasn't been any genuine Hindutva outreach.

The high point of Hindutva majoritarianism hasn't come from winning over the hearts and minds of Hindus, but by spreading manufactured lies about the 'Other' (Shaheen Bagh is a breeding ground for jihadists where people want Jinnah-wali azaadi). It has followed a formula of simple inversion: Initiate the dirty tricks, then blame the Opposition for what you have done. This is as basic as politics can get. The edifice of Fanta ideology rests on orange party balloons.

Political sloganeering is high stakes gambling. One wrong sentence can mess it up for good. The line that might take Delhi away from the BJP yet again is: 'Kejriwal is a terrorist'. It's as damaging as 'Chowkidar chor hai' was for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. When Gandhi went to town with this line, the goodwill for Modi was so immense (it still is), that the voter simply rejected it in bemused disbelief. This was not the axis sentence to run a campaign on.

Just as Gandhi's slogan was countered with and appropriated by 'Main bhi chowkidar', Kejriwal responded with an understated, dim-lit campaign video about helping out families of martyrs with a Rs 1 crore 'samman rashi'. "Aapke is kattar deshbhakt bete Kejriwal ko BJP aatankwadi kehti hai."

The Delhi voter is willing to believe many fictions peddled by the Hindu Right, like the protesters at Shaheen Bagh are 'anti-nationals' being misled by 'anti-nationals' like former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, that Shaheen Bagh is nothing more than an open-air biryani festival that will rip apart the fabric of India. But the Delhi voter will draw the line at Kejriwal being called a terrorist. He enjoys the same goodwill in Delhi that Modi does nationwide.

Focused AAP

The other mistake that the BJP keeps repeating is its exaggerated faith in the abilities of UP CM Yogi Adityanath to sway elections, from Kerala to Delhi: If the protesters don't listen to words, we feed them bullets. This mystical belief in the Yogi's powers is like Sourav Ganguly persisting with Dinesh Mongia (chosen over VVS Laxman) in a World Cup campaign that ended with India losing the final in 2003. What works in the badlands of UP doesn't work elsewhere.

Democratic politics forces one to acknowledge the other side. Just like Kejriwal has had to prove his Hindu credentials by reciting the Hanuman Chalisa on stage, the BJP has been forced to acknowledge Shaheen Bagh, Kanhaiya and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad (even filmmaker Anurag Kashyap) in its Delhi campaign video: 'Har drohi ko pehchaan le'. While Kejriwal has kept the conversation focused tightly on himself, his party's achievements and Delhi, the BJP has sought to draw Delhi into the arc of its nationalist fantasy. This inability of the BJP to think local is proving to be its biggest drawback.

The BJP's campaign video, mounted on the scale of a Bhansali film, doesn't really talk about Delhi, to Delhi.

City-capital duality

It's obsessed with "Akhand Bharat mein jo daal gaye darar", from Mountbatten to marauding Muslims on horseback; moves on to the traitors of today, from Kanhaiya to Kashyap; and lapses into Bhojpuri Hindu male fantasy: "Kashmir bhi tera / Tera hi Assam hai." It's another matter that Assam thinks differently about outsiders; besides, what does this have to with Delhi's concerns? The video also pits Muslim against Hindu, frame after frame.

"Shiva ka lahoo teri rago mein beh raha" alternates with thundering lines about the population explosion, "Tadaat kafi ho gayi", accompanied by supposedly frightening images of Muslims rising from Friday prayers at Jama Masjid.

Apparently, apart from Mughals, firangis (Gandhi), drohis and farebis, outsider Muslims have been pouring into Delhi to foment trouble: "Hokar vo nakam vo/ Dubak ke aye Dilli bhag/ Aur khade kar diye saikdon Shaheen Bagh". The importance of Delhi to the BJP is referenced in their campaign jingle: "Desh agar deh hai/Toh Dilli uska praan hai" (the vital breath of Delhi animates India's body politic). This vital breath looks increasingly likely to be a sangam, with two differently-hued rivers forced to flow side by side. Delhi is the city from where Shah and Modi will engineer an 'Akhand Bharat' with popular support. Delhi will also remain the city that will play host to Kejriwal and a contrastingly different brand of politics.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: February 08, 2020 | 10:51
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