Lesson for the BJP is that the little man in Delhi is not a traitor

The surprises are far and few as results of the Delhi assembly trickle in. Actually, we can go beyond the result – as it is almost certain that Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is going to form the government – to what happens next in Delhi and what the result means.

First, Arvind Kejriwal certainly becomes chief minister but who will be deputy chief minister? Manish Sisodia is bearing the brunt of the middle class voter in Patparganj who feels let down by the AAP government and has proved that he is still a die hard BJP campaigner and supporter. Patparganj is dominated by high rise cooperative housing societies  and the 2020-21 budget rejig for middle class tax payers might have had a role to play in Sisodia’s setback. This tells us that AAP has to move to the concerns of the middle class in Delhi which wants more than lower power and water bills. Experiments in education mean little to these Delhi inhabitants because they don’t send their children to government schools. Or maybe Sisodia just needs to select another assembly constituency.

What AAP rolls out in Delhi next will be the crucial issue. Given that the party continues to have no presence at the municipal level, it might be a good idea to concentrate on that voter and wean him away from the BJP.

Second, the election represents a big dilemma for AAP in terms of its minority constituency. Amanatullah Khan from Okhla (the constituency that includes Shaheen Bagh) is leading now but without much help from AAP which refused to confirm or deny the presence of a minority-led agitation there. Apart from making shocked noises, it did little to mobilise people on the issue of the attack on students in Jamia. AAP might benefit from reaching out overtly and boldly to minorities and treating Muslims as Indians: it will lose a kind of Hindu vote but might redefine majority-minority relations.

The BJP will have to seriously rethink its strategy in Delhi. Home Minister Amit Shah held nearly 40 election meetings. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed two. By no means is the election a referendum on the leadership of either: but why does Modi succeed in winning elections for his party all over India except some notable exceptions including Delhi?

This is the last chance for the Congress to redeem itself. It has suffered a massive and precipitous vote share and seat erosion in the capital. The party might as well sign off and hand over its support base to the AAP instead of dividing it.

But much more than all this, it is AAP’s future strategy that will need focus. This victory will be a huge temptation for AAP to spread itself thin and aspire to become a national party. That could be a mistake. AAP has claimed its ‘work’ has won the election not smart alecky gimmicks or claims to nationalism. It would do well to remember this. BJP has got a huge injection of vote share. Not only will this enthuse this to become a more vocal opposition, but will also push its workers to work harder. Delhi will become a political battleground in the days and months to come. AAP has done some deft political footwork in the last two years, refusing to rise to baits repeatedly dangled before it. It needs to hone this skill.

AAP needs to set up a thought council. As I the past, it needs to ask people of Delhi what they want and the gaps in delivery. Rations to the homes of citizens is only a small part of it. Although there are several institutional limitations in terms of the restrictions on the government’s powers, AAP has proved it can work around (and despite) them.

Whether they win or lose the heroes of this election are Atishi Marlena and Manish Sisodia. AAP and the BJP alike need to remember this. Something works in Delhi – and it is not the BJP’s version of ‘Rashtravad’ (nationalism).

In terms of its impact on national politics, the assembly election outcome will have limited effect. But in terms of popular politics and memory, the election will go down in history as a David and Goliath battle. BJP would do well to remember that the little man in Delhi is not a traitor just because he hasn’t voted for BJP.

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