American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky had rightly said, "We shouldn't be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas."
In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) focused on reaching out to people with ideas of good governance. With Delhiites set to vote on February 8, the AAP is asking people to vote in its favour precisely for the ideas that the party managed to implement on the ground.
In 2015, when the party came to power with an unprecedented majority, winning 67 of the 70 Assembly seats, it absolutely decimated the opposition. Even as the BJP managed to win three, the Congress, which contested under the leadership of late Sheila Dikshit, was completely routed. Dikshit was a heavyweight in the politics of the national capital. She failed to even secure her own seat, as people chose Arvind Kejriwal over her in a direct contest.
The AAP is asking people to vote in its favour precisely for the ideas that the party managed to implement on the ground. (Photo: Reuters)
The Congress is still recovering from the 2015 drubbing. The BJP, however, is trying to challenge the AAP. In its bid to take on the incumbent government in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country's home minister Amit Shah held several rallies to woo voters in the state even before the Election Commission announced the poll schedule in the capital. All speeches appear to be devoid of any real issue, even on close scrutiny.
Both Modi and Shah chose mostly bizarre issues to attack Kejriwal. Issues that had no real connect with the voters of Delhi. Despite Kejriwal repeatedly saying he wanted the voters to judge him on the basis of the work his government has done in the past five years, the Modi-Shah duo talked about anything but AAP's report card. The two know, as does the local leadership of Delhi BJP, that AAP has scored pretty high in terms of its performance.
The biggest challenge for BJP thus is a lack of issues on which it can seek votes.
This has happened because the Kejriwal-led AAP has been successful in keeping its focus on local issues rather than talk about national issues that have no direct bearing on the day to day governance of Delhi.
The AAP turned the development narrative into an electoral issue over the last five years. On the contrary, the BJP spent the same time cultivating Modi's image.
From talking about national security to taking credit for the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP's push for muscular nationalism was coupled with positioning Modi as the muscular nationalist.
This effort did help the BJP win 303 seats in the Lok Sabha elections held over April and May. But subsequent losses in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand have shown that nationalism is not an issue in local elections.
The projection of Modi as the 'supreme leader' is also a reflection of a lack of leadership in BJP, especially in Delhi.
Failure in tackling Kejriwal's model of politics
Kejriwal is comparatively a new entrant in Indian politics. This gave him a better chance to tweak the narrative of Indian politics. The Delhi BJP was caught off-guard when Kejriwal swept the state with a new vision for politics.
Kejriwal's rise in politics found a connect with the masses because he started off as a street fighter willing to take on those in power against corruption first through RTI activism, and later through the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement.
In 2013, when AAP first came to power, Kejriwal maintained his anarchist image. After running a 49-day government, when Kejriwal returned to power in 2015 with absolute majority, it faced trouble from the Centre and the Centre-appointed lieutenant governor. All this, while Kejriwal kept launching one welfare scheme after the other. The point was not lost on the electorate.
From changing the face of Delhi government schools, to providing subsidised water and electricity, to ensuring free bus rides for women, the AAP fought with the Centre head-on to ensure people got all benefits that AAP promised them.
The more the BJP-led Centre created obstructions, the harder AAP worked to fight problems like dengue, pollution and lighting up Delhi's dark spots.
Kejriwal has made it clear that the election of Delhi should be fought based on the welfare model and not on the narrative of Modi versus Kejriwal. He has refrained from getting into a Tu-Tu-Main-Main with the BJP despite Modi and Shah launching personal attacks against him.
The AAP's silence on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has come in for criticism, but has surely helped the party corner BJP in the Delhi election battle.
Imagine had Kejriwal done a Mamata Banerjee in Delhi and taken to the streets against CAA. The BJP would have found an opportunity to turn the upcoming elections into a nationalism debate.
The AAP has succeeded in not falling into the BJP's trap. We now need to wait and watch how many seats this translates into on February 11.