For AAP, performance is perfect poll pitch

AAP CM Arvind Kejriwal with other party leaders after the swearing-in ceremony at Ramlila Maidan in 2013

AAP CM Arvind Kejriwal with other party leaders after the swearing-in ceremony at Ramlila Maidan in 2013   | Photo Credit: The Hindu


Despite efforts of the BJP to drag it into commenting on national issues such as the amended citizenship law or NRC or JNU violence, the Aam Aadmi Party is doggedly sticking to talking about the various ways the govt. has improved the lives of Delhiites. Experts say the strategy is likely to help it in the upcoming Assembly elections

Three days after the Lok Sabha election result was announced on May 23, 2019, in which the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was unable to win even one of the seven Delhi seats, party chief Arvind Kejriwal addressed volunteers at the lawns of Punjabi Bagh Club to boost their morale.

Ab Delhi ki janta ke paas jaa ke bolna, ki ji, bada chunaav khatam hogaya, ab chotta chunav aagaya, ab chotte chunav ke andar, kaam ke uppar vote padna chahiye, naam ke uppar vote nahi padna chahiye [Now you have to go to the people of Delhi and tell them that the big election is over and now the small election is coming and in the small election, vote according to the work done and not on a name],” Mr. Kejriwal had told the volunteers.

The election was about eight months away.

On January 6, 2020, just hours after the dates for the Delhi Assembly elections were declared, the AAP chief held a press conference and said that the elections would be fought on “real issues”. When asked whether these issues will be city specific or national issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act or National Register of Citizens (NRC), he said: “Delhi’s election will be on education, hospitals, roads, unauthorised colonies, water, free ride for women, free pilgrimage for senior citizens... If we have done work, then vote for us. If we have not done work, then do not vote for us.”

Since May last year, Mr. Kejriwal and senior AAP leaders, through countless press conferences, interviews, public outreach programmes, and advertisements, have reiterated that the Assembly elections will be fought on the work done by the Delhi government and will focus on local issues.

National issues

The party has also been careful in not speaking out aggressively on national issues such as CAA and NRC, or even violence in JNU, despite attempts by the BJP to pull it into debating national topics.

Even the transition in the party’s slogan from “Dilli mei toh Kejriwal” to “I love Kejriwal”, and its latest slogan “Acche beete paanch saal - Lage raho Kejriwal (The last five years went well, keep going Kejriwal)”, increased focus on the work done by the AAP government.

Political analysts told The Hindu that AAP’s firm decision to stay focussed on the work done and sticking to local issues seems to be working out for the party.

“This [focusing on work done] is the only thing that can work out for AAP. And that is the reason why AAP keeps reminding the people of the works they have been able to accomplish. It is a very solid poll plank for them and my sense is that this is going to work for AAP,” said Sanjay Kumar, professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi.

“In a recent press conference, Mr. Kejriwal said ‘if we have done work then vote for us, or else don’t’... I have not heard such a strong statement made by any Chief Minister or Prime Minister in the last 30 years I have been monitoring elections,” he said, adding: “This shows that he is convinced that work has been done on the ground.”

Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said that the BJP has indicated that it is not going to have a chief ministerial face and Mr. Kejriwal’s strength lies in focussing on local issues. “Mr. Kejriwal’s question to everyone is ‘has your life improved as a result of me being in power for five years?’... a lot of people will tell you ‘I got this’ or ‘I got that’... It is a smart move by him, but the BJP will try to move the narrative towards national issues as it suits them,” she added.

Local issues

Senior party leader and head of the AAP manifesto committee, Atishi, told The Hindu: “Delhi elections have always been fought on local issues. Pick up our last poll manifesto, it was also on Delhi’s issues.”

Another AAP leader said that the party knows that the work done by the AAP government is their “strength” and that is why their are banking on it.

Both the experts said that regularisation of unauthorised colonies was also an important issue. “Sheila Dikshit [Former Delhi Chief Minister] had also tried to use the issue, but not successfully. AAP is somewhat on the defence on this topic and is picking holes in the policy. How AAP counters the perception and how BJP goes ahead with the policy is a very critical question,” Ms. Chowdhury said.

“On the topic of Article 370, the AAP chief gave only one statement: ‘We support it’,” Mr. Kumar said, adding: “After that he kept silent as if nothing of this kind has been uttered by him. I think they have a good sense of the popular mood of the people on these issues.”

A tightrope

He said that giving a single statement and campaigning on these issues are completely different. “He does not want to speak in public on these issues because he knows that if he speaks in support, then it becomes very difficult... He cannot be seen as supporting CAA or the abrogation of Article 370.”

“If you oppose CAA or NRC, then many who are willing to vote for you will also turn their back and say in today’s language that AAP is supporting ‘anti-national’ activity,” he added.

Ms. Chowdhury said that the BJP will try to use CAA and NRC to “polarise society” along Hindu-Muslim lines. “It is a tried and tested recipe for success,” she said, adding: “He [Mr. Kejriwal] has taken a position on these issues, but he has not been as aggressive as some other parties... He does not want to go to Narendra Modi’s turf and fight the battle there. He wants the BJP to fight on his turf.”

Thorny subjects

“We are not side-stepping these issues. We have taken a stand on CAA. We have voted against CAA in Parliament” Atishi said.

But an AAP insider said: “We know when to talk what. In Parliament, we had opposed it (CAA), but we will not talk about that during the run up to the elections. We are confident about our work and we will fight the election based on that.”

AAP has also sidelined the demand for “full statehood”, an issue around which the party based its complete campaign for Lok Sabha election. It has merely mentioned that it will be part of the manifesto.

“In May 2019, our survey indicated that people were worried about unemployment and rural distress but it won’t have a direct impact on voting,” Mr. Kumar said. “This is happening in the Delhi elections also, people are in support of CAA or what has happened in Kashmir and they will be very aggressive in supporting it. But that is not going to decide their voting preferences when they go to the polls on February 8,” he added.

While the BJP has been trying to pull AAP to comment on national issues, AAP has also been trying to drag the BJP into talking about local issues and work done by the party.

On January 8, senior party leader and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia challenged the BJP to compare the work done by his government in schools and the work done by BJP-run municipal corporation in its schools.

Education model

“If you like their [BJP] model of education, then vote for them. I want to ask the BJP, what is your model of education?” he asked while presenting data on both. He said the party would also challenge the BJP to show work done by it in the field of healthcare. The next day, Mr. Kejriwal addressed a press conference and released a “BJP’s MCD model versus AAP’s Delhi govt. model”.

When asked whether concentrating on work done would help Mr. Kejriwal win the upcoming elections, Ms. Chowdhury said: “That is the million dollar question. A lot of politicians, both young and old, believe votes will be on the basis of caste and religion, not work done.”

“A lot of politicians and people across the country are looking at Delhi to see whether people will vote for Mr. Kejriwal for his work,” she added.

“My own sense is that it is very difficult for any party to defeat AAP in 2020 Assembly elections,” Mr. Kumar added.

“Even if you are from the BJP or the Congress, this time, do not vote for your party, this time, vote for Delhi,” Mr. Kejriwal had said in January: “Is baar ka vote, aap kaam ke naam pe dena, Delhi ke vikas ke naam pe dena [This time vote for work, vote for Delhi’s development]”.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 5:39:42 PM |

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