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Delhi polls: Its’s now ‘love for nation’ versus lure for freebies

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By Sidharth Mishra

Delhi is just a few days away from casting vote on February 8 to elect the new city government. As the campaign enters the last lap, three very visible points emerge: 1. Arvind Kejriwal overcame the rout the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) received in 2019 Lok Sabha to start off as favourite for the assembly polls. 2. Despite a late start, the BJP campaign has peaked matching the AAP seat-to-seat though there is absence of a charismatic face at Delhi level. 3. The Congress has frittered away the gains, in term of vote percentage, it made in 2017 municipal polls and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP performs well in Delhi whenever there is a three-way division in the vote share in the national Capital as it has a static support base, is the general perception. With the Congress campaign failing to take off with a complete breakdown of the poll campaign machinery, the AAP stands to again as it happened in 2015, polls pundits are tending to believe.

The BJP, however, is planning and executing its campaign keeping fully in mind the fact that Congress would not be able to ‘deliver’ as it is going to perform below par from what it done in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Thus, the BJP is taking a cue from their performance in the last polls, wherein their vote share was much higher than what was polled together by the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party.

The BJP has commanded between 32 per cent to 36 per cent votes in Delhi in all the elections which followed the 1993 Vidhan Sabha polls, except in 1999 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Modi Wave 1.0 in 2014 had given the party about 8 per cent extra votes, taking its vote share to 44 per cent. In 2019, it jumped another 12 percentage points to 56 percent. It happened due to floating voters pitching for BJP and undoubtedly the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The last time BJP got votes somewhere close to the 50 per cent mark in an assembly poll was in 1993, at the peak of Ramjanmabhoomi movement. It had then polled around 47 per cent votes. Will Shaheen Bagh agitation prove to be as emotively powerful an issue as Ramjanambhoomi movement? The BJP leadership wants it that way and there be no doubts about it.

The speeches by the party leaders from Prime Minister downwards is targeted at whipping sentiments on the ‘threat to the national unity which the Shaheen Bagh protests hold.’ The exceptionally vitriolic campaign by some of its leaders like Kapil Mishra, Pravesh Verma and Anurag Thakur are not sought to be condemned but rather being condoned by providing them other platforms to put forth their views.

West Delhi MP Pravesh Verma, who has been banned from campaigning by the poll panel, was assigned to initiate debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address in the Lok Sabha. His had three main points to make – attack on the Nehru-Gandhis, attack on the Shaheen Bagh protestors and countering AAPs policies of subsiding civic services with a list of pro-people policies which the BJP plans to initiate if voted to power including making wheat flour available at Rs 2 per kg for the poor.

Other than the poll narrative, what has helped BJP to peak it campaign is the selection of candidates. The party has in most cases overlooked recommendation of the local leaders pushing for their favourities and have gone strictly by the findings of its internal surveys on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates.

Coming back to the poll narrative, since Shaheen Bagh is part of the ideological conflict between the Left and the Right, the cadres of the Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) would also not like to leave anything to chance to let those ‘standing with Shaheen Bagh protestors’ win the poll. A loss for the BJP in Delhi poll would mean a big setback to the Sangh agenda being pushed so consistently by the Narendra Modi government. For sure the Sangh supporters and sympathisers want to avoid a scenario of loss.

On the other hand, Kejriwal is fighting the polls on the basis of his personal appeal and his campaign is fuelled by the freebies which his government has given in the past few months. However, Shaheen Bagh protests is proving to be an albatross around his neck. He is finding it difficult to either own it or disown it in the face to the persistent attack launched by the BJP.

Other deficit which Kejriwal is facing is lack of campaigners. He is the only one from his party who has campaigned outside his constituency appealing for the votes for his candidates. In the absence of the stage performers like Kumar Vishwas, who played a big role in both the 2013 and 2015 poll campaigns, the AAP has decided against holding public meetings and is depending completely on Kejriwal’s roadshows and a very intensive campaign on the social media.

Kejriwal is also drawing strength, in addition to the beneficiaries of the freebee schemes, from such people who were recruited as paid volunteers during the various government schemes and programmes during the past five years including the Odd-Even vehicle rationing scheme last November. For them the loss of AAP in the polls would mean a loss of livelihood and they would certainly resist BJP tooth and nail from usurping the AAP government.

After Modi’s entry into the campaign, Kejriwal is bound to create the David versus Goliath hype. The challenge for the BJP is not to let the AAP play the victim card effectively, and keep up the tempo of their campaign aimed at polarizing voters. For BJP to win the polls, ‘love for nation’ will have to trend briskly over the ‘lure for freebies’. 

 

(First published in www.News18.com)
 

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