Kejriwal reinvented himself to win Delhi

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Kejriwal reinvented himself to win Delhi

Wednesday, 12 February 2020 | Kalyani Shankar

However, the AAP and the Delhi Chief Minister should remember that there are many challenges aheadif they want to move to the national stage

Whoever thought seven years ago that the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would come this far to bag the throne of Delhi for the third term? Though the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had arrived as a disruptive force in 2013 and was dismissed as an upstart, its chief Kejriwal surprised critics with his ability to grasp the pulse of the public and change for the better in this roller coaster political ride. There was a method to his madness though his critics called him an “anarchist.” Delhi was not the end of his ambition, as he took on Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the party contested on 400 seats. Even after winning this time around, the AAP was talking of nation-building. But for now, Kejriwal must be satisfied with the landslide win in the Delhi Assembly polls. This is the second time the “Modi magic” did not work in Delhi elections, that too just six months after the BJP’s impressive 2019 victory. The fight was between the AAP and the BJP with the Congress not anywhere in the reckoning.

The BJP had gone all out to win back the State — as it had been in the political wilderness in the Capital for almost three decades now — bombarding the city with high-profile leaders.

So, what worked for Kejriwal this time? The coup was that he did a “Modi on Modi.” The BJP leader won the 2014 elections on the promise of development and Kejriwal did the same in the Delhi polls.

To his credit, he delivered on that promise and after five years at the helm the Chief Minister did not go to the Delhi voters empty-handed. He was armed with his welfare measures, including free water, cheap power, improved health services, better educational facilities, doorstep delivery of services to the common man, free bus rides for women, better street lighting, CCTVs and so on and sought votes on his Government’s performance. Though Kejriwal’s critics alleged that he was doling out sops with the taxpayers’ money, his projection of the AAP as a party that works for the poor went in their favour.

Kejriwal also wisely kept himself away from the Shaheen Bagh controversy, anti-CAA protests and hate politics, though Muslims are part of his core voters.

Second, Kejriwal is nothing if not a quick learner.  He realised his mistakes and changed his style of functioning after the AAP’s humiliating defeat in the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections in 2017. But the real change came after the AAP got a drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

So Kejriwal attempted an image makeover and from the angry young man in 2012, he transformed into a “vikas purush (development man).” The “muffler man,” Kejriwal discarded his muffler and also projected himself as a family man. The winning tactic was that Kejriwal preferred to fight for Delhi strictly on bread and butter issues. Also, he consciously stopped his confrontationist politics and surprised many when his party supported the contentious Bills on the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir in the Rajya Sabha. He also welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.  All these have resulted in a better relationship between the Delhi Chief Minister and the Prime Minister. Modi even sent Kejriwal birthday greetings when the latter turned 51.

Fourth, he scrupulously kept the poll narrative to local issues while the BJP raked national and divisive issues with motormouths giving hate speeches and trying to vitiate the atmosphere.

Fifth, Kejriwal also abandoned his constant fight with Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) after the Supreme Court ordered the L-G to work on the “aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.” The constant court battles, too, have stopped.

Sixth, and more importantly, neither the Congress nor the BJP had any credible leaders to match Kejriwal’s stature. The BJP was betting on the Modi magic while the Congress was invoking the work of Sheila Dikshit.

 In short, his victory was due to four main factors. First, Kejriwal was successful in making the people believe that he merited another chance. Second, people saw him as a “doer” as compared to his earlier image of a political upstart. Third, was the decline of the Congress and lack of any credible leader in the BJP. Fourth he was successful in nurturing of the “poor” as his constituency. He got credit for the regularisation of illegal colonies and stayed away from polarising politics. However, the AAP and its chief should remember that there are many challenges ahead if they want to move to the national stage.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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