Shorts In The Dark

Arvind Kejriwal stands a chance in Delhi purely by bridging various gulfs

Kejriwal was associated with drama and histrionics, and accused of being in agitation/ dharna mode even when holding the reins of power. But it worked.

 |  Shorts In The Dark  |  5-minute read |   25-01-2020
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Five years is a long time in politics. In 2014, the Shiv Sena called Arvind Kejriwal an ‘item girl’, comparing him to Rakhi Sawant. Kejriwal was associated with drama and histrionics, and accused of being in agitation/ dharna mode even when holding the reins of power.

At the height of the Modi wave, Kejriwal made a brave call: “We will go to polls, ask people for forgiveness and win them back.” The ploy worked.

The people’s CM

In 2020, Kejriwal is more likely to be compared to cricketer Jasprit Bumrah, the kid who came in from nowhere, defied critics who feared that his unorthodox bowling action will lead to a physical breakdown, and rose to become India’s fast bowling spearhead. Capital cities come with a lot of symbolic capital. The ruling party runs the country from Delhi, but Delhi is not in its pocket. That surely hurts.

Meanwhile, Delhi is not as wide-eyed about politics as other parts of India. It is a city that has seen differently-hued politicians and regimes come and go. It watches the national stampede but, at times, stands on the side and does its own thing. The citizens of Delhi, veterans of being the power centre, have the political confidence to buck the trend.

main_pm-modi-arvind-_012520095427.jpgIf one leaves the politics aside, Modi and Kejriwal share a fair bit in common. (Photo: Twitter/ @pib_india)

The support Kejriwal enjoyed in the previous Assembly elections was unmatched and across the board. From old money to new, from South Delhi landlords to autorickshaw drivers, from memsahibs to maids, AAP had everyone on its side. In Delhi, the dividing line between the affluent and the rest is more entrenched than other cities. It was in this elitist city that Kejriwal came to power, enabled by a socialist-minded manifesto that promised to bring about palpable functional improvements to the lives of the working class.

What’s been especially remarkable is that the buzz about Kejriwal, that he’s doing good work, began early in the AAP term and has sustained and lasted — no mean feat in politics — till now. One could ask anyone on the street and nine times out of 10 the answer would be: Kejriwal is performing well. In a country that is cynical about politicians, the success of Kejriwal’s policies serves to remind us that cynicism isn’t the default position of the Indian voter.

At least in Delhi, the BJP has to contend with a party that counters the strengths of the BJP: A charismatic, honest, home-grown leader, boasting a strong connect with the masses. While Kejriwal has sought to be less confrontational in his dealings with the Central government, the latter has come across as obstructionist on several counts, ranging from the delay in permissions for the installation of CCTV cameras to the granting of full statehood and control over the police force. This is meanminded and deprives the Indian citizen of the right to negotiate a better quality of life, for no fault of hers.

Development politics

While political parties squabble, the Indian citizen often doesn’t see voting as a matter of exclusionary choice: I might vote for Kejriwal in Delhi, but for Prime Minister Narendra Modi when it comes to the general election.

AAP’s strength, in many ways, has been the lack of ideology. For the BJP’s base, success may be measured not in terms of bread and butter policy, but in terms of fulfilling the dream of Hindutva and realising the goal of ‘Akhand Bharat’. Ahead of the elections, a BJP MP has said that mosques constructed on encroached government land will be demolished. The Muslim is an obsession with the BJP, political weather be damned. For the AAP, it is a simple case of perform or perish, hinged to realworld, everyday issues like education and electricity. There are no cultural underpinnings. This allows AAP to be more flexible and responsive to the changing needs of the voter. It’s good old-fashioned politics at its best.

AAP has also shown street-smartness when it comes to handling the BJP. When the BJP tried to launch a whisper campaign that ‘Marlena’ was a Christian surname, Aatishi simply dropped it.

Dialect-ical gulf

The rising sentiment of neo-nationalism, unleashed and harnessed by the BJP, was balanced out with the cleverly nomenclatured ‘Deshbhakti’ curriculum in Delhi government schools. When deputy CM Manish Sisodia crossed racial lines in Khirki Extension — home to the African community — the party quickly back-pedalled.

If one leaves the politics aside, Modi and Kejriwal share a fair bit in common. Both are self-made. Both came to power on an anti-Congress and clean/good governance plank. Both are excellent orators. Both are as camera-friendly as Shah Rukh Khan. Both inspire confidence in the voter as ‘the right man, for the right job’. Both are seen to be providing political alternatives, a different way of doing things. Both rely on the force of personality to get the job done.

In Delhi, the BJP faces the same problem that plagues the Opposition when taking on the BJP nationwide. Who should be our face to take on a seemingly invincible leader? Kejriwal seems as natural to Delhi as chhola-bhatura and rajma-chawal. Manoj Tiwari’s lovely lilting Bhojpuri might find it tough to counter Kejriwal’s Punjabi Hindi, where it’s always ‘Bhot acha’, never ‘Bahut ache’. In that difference of dialect might lie a gulf in vote share.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Delhi 2020: Why AAP doesn't even need to deliver clean air and 24-hour water


Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

The writer is the editor of 'House Spirit: Drinking in India'

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