21 Feb 2020 19:29 IST

AAP’s stupendous victory

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal deftly manoeuvred around the minefield that the BJP had placed for him

In normal circumstances, a State elections in Delhi would not have captured the national attention. But these are not normal times. The Delhi elections were fought against the backdrop of the over two-month long protests against the CAA and NRC at Shaheen Bagh and the violence against protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia University and JNU.

The ruling party at the Centre — BJP — had ramped up the significance of this election by bringing out all its ‘ammunition’ and ‘firepower’. Its A team, which includes the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, was out in full force. No prizes for guessing the plank on which the BJP fought this election. The level of vitriol and venom from the BJP campaigners had scaled a ‘new peak’.

With each succeeding State election, the BJP seems to be moving the ‘new normal’ of political discourse further to the right. That the highly jingoistic, nationalism plank did not work in either Maharashtra or Jharkhand seemed to matter little to the BJP. In Delhi, thanks to the Shaheen Bagh protests, the BJP felt that its rhetoric would resonate with the voter. But it was a thumbs down again from the people.

But the Delhi election was more about the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory than the BJP’s defeat. Capturing power for the third consecutive time that too with such a huge majority, winning 62 out of the 70 Assembly seats, is no mean achievement. What would have made the victory sweeter for AAP was that it came against the BJP, a party with seemingly inexhaustible money and manpower.

Focusing on right issues

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal deftly manoeuvred around the minefield that the BJP had placed for him. He avoided directly confronting the BJP despite being called a ‘terrorist’ and other worse names. He focused resolutely on his government’s record especially in the areas of education, health, electricity and water.

The Delhi’s government’s record on all these areas is impressive. It rejuvenated government schools by improving the infrastructure and hiring more teachers. It convinced the people of Delhi that government schools’ infrastructure and quality of education was at par with private schools.

Its record in the health front is no less impressive. It started Mohalla (neighbourhood) clinics to provide better access to healthcare to people. Though it managed to set up only about half the Mohalla clinics it had promised, the people seemed to be convinced of the AAP’s intention and gave it another term.

Electricity bills were an important issue for the party since its inception. Its free electricity, up to 100 units, for households and subsidised charges beyond that was a hit.

The fourth important achievement was providing free public transport in buses and metro to women commuters. This resonated with the women voters.

The freebies

Many commentators including Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande have noted that there was nothing new in the AAP’s model of development. This has been done in the past in Gujarat (when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister), Bihar (under Nitish Kumar, where he earned the moniker ‘Sushasan Babu’) and Odisha (under Naveen Patnaik).

Interestingly none of the commentators mentioned the record of Southern States when it comes to delivery of welfare schemes.

Both Kerala and Tamil Nadu have impressive records on this front, and Karnataka, AP and Telangana are not far behind. In Kerala, the public schools have improved to such an extent that parents now are shunning more expensive private schools and sending their children to government schools.

Tamil Nadu’s case is more interesting. Both Dravidian parties — the AIADMK and DMK — routinely shower the people with TV sets, grinders, sewing machines, bicycles, laptops, and other goods. Commentators often rather derisively call this freebies, but what’s often missed in the ‘freebie’ debate is that for the poor the provision of these free goods frees up funds for providing education and buying other assets. AIADMK’s Amma Canteens — where hygienic food is provided in a clean environment at subsidised prices were not only a huge hit among the urban underclass, including the vast immigrant worker population, it also provided a model for other States to emulate.

Who’s a better Hindu?

Of course beyond the ‘bread and butter’ issues, there were some crucial cultural factors that were at play in the Delhi elections. Kejriwal’s ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ act seemed to have struck a chord with the voters. Kejriwal seemed to be sending a rather subliminal message that there are many ways of being a Hindu.

Kejriwal and other AAP leaders have been very careful in avoiding a mention of Shaheen Bagh protests or the Jamia/JNU violence as that would have meant walking into a trap laid by the BJP. Is this a sign of AAP, especially Kejriwal’s, new found political maturity or is it a sign of AAP’s ‘rightward’ shift politics? The jury is still out on that one.

For now AAP can bask in its victory and more importantly for having brought the focus on the state’s role in providing good quality education, healthcare and other welfare measures.