AAP's victory gives Opposition a road map to counter BJP's poll machinery

AAP workers celebrate the victory of AAP. Photo: Dalip Kumar
The Delhi poll results indicate winds of change blowing in the country,” said Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar. His party’s alliance partner and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was frank: “The people of Delhi have chosen 'Jan Ki Baat' over 'Mann Ki Baat'. There is a (BJP-led central) government in Delhi with so-called nationalistic views which used the entire machinery and force in the Delhi Assembly polls but failed before the broom”.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has taken the two most potent weapons available to any political party and has refashioned them to craft a massive electoral victory. This could well be the new template for the Opposition.

Freebies are one of the two ways of winning people over. In Telangana, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), a relatively new party like the AAP, managed to come to power for the second successive term in December 2018, adding 25 seats to its 2014 tally of 63 in a 119-member House, with an increase of 12 percentage points in its vote share. The TRS rode to power on the back of welfare schemes, such as support for weddings of women from poor families (Kalyana Lakshmi/Shaadi Mubarak), support for neonatal health through KCR Kits (Ammavodi), and a programme to assist farmers (Rythu Bandhu). According to the pre-poll data collated by research agency Lokniti-CSDS, there was a high level of awareness among voters about the TRS government’s welfare schemes; so it was not just a case of introducing schemes, but going home to home to tell people about them. The TRS has maintained friendly relations with the All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), promised 12 per cent reservations to Muslims in education and employment, and opened a number of residential schools for Muslim children.

A similar route to electoral success was sought by Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh by emphasising on infrastructure development, providing laptops to students, etc. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar came to power for another term because of education and health reform in 2006 – cash to girls for bicycles, uniforms to school-going students, which increased enrolments in the first year itself by over 30 per cent (academic studies show that leakages from the scheme were below 5 per cent), subsidies for pathology services, and an overhaul of state hospitals with monitoring via digital oversight.

So welfare by state governments plays a huge role in their repeated re-election. Not all of them need to be freebies, many are just policy tone-ups to make them effective and efficient. The AAP mastered this through its education and health experiments.

But equally, the AAP offered an alternative route to nationalism and religiosity. While the Congress — in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere — was agonising about the morality and appropriateness of soft Hindutva, Arvind Kejriwal embraced Hanuman and Ganesh — the two gods of the streets — unapologetically. He stayed away from issues like Shaheen Bagh, but the minorities forgave him. The AAP candidate from Okhla, Amanutallah Khan, won by the largest margin in the Assembly election. At his election rally, Kejriwal’s slogan was “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, which he claimed from the BJP.

Former finance minister P Chidambaram lauded the people of Delhi for defeating the “polarising” agenda of the BJP without commenting on the reasons for his party’s loss. AICC Delhi in-charge P C Chacko said the message of the Delhi polls was that the “most toxic campaign” unleashed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah were defeated by the people of the national capital. But the AAP adopted nationalism — and adapted it. Delhi showed that it liked the adaptation. Maybe this could bring the Opposition together.

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