The forthcoming assembly elections in Delhi seem to be a huge test for not just Delhi chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, but also for the BJP top brass including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. While Manoj Tiwari may be the state party chief of the BJP, but the election campaign is being planned and directed by none other than Shah who is trying to ensure that the party wins the assembly election to get rid of the spate of electoral losses suffered by the saffron party.
While the BJP did very badly in Haryana and couldn’t muster a majority in the state assembly on its own, it was somehow or the other able to cling to power there. However, it was plain unlucky to lose the power in a crucial state like Maharashtra, despite winning majority with its now estranged partner, Shiv Sena. Udhav Thackeray, the Sena boss ditched its saffron partner and crossed over to secular alliance of the Congress and NCP to form the government with their support. The picture in Jharkhand was completely different as the party suffered a severe drubbing at the hands of Congress-JMM-RJD alliance. The spate of losses in assembly elections in several states have forced the BJP to throw all its might in winning the union territory of Delhi. However this is an uphill task.
Trying to make CAA the main election plank
The BJP’s top brass is doing everything to turn the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA) into an emotive electoral issue. The way the BJP leadership is talking about it and organizing pro-CAA rallies in almost every part of the city, gives an insight into what is cooking within the BJP. Besides, the BJP is trying to label anti-CAA protests across the country as something anti-national. The party has been parroting this narrative since the very beginning of the anti-CAA and NRC protests throughout out the country.
In the absence of anti-incumbency factor against the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling party at the Center has pounced on the protest to make it an election plank, polarize the atmosphere and win the crucial election. BJP leadership apparently believes that if it wins the election in Delhi, it may project it as referendum on the CAA and push the argument that the people opposing the legislations are in miniscule minority or at best make it look like a purely Muslim issue.
Shaheen Bagh protest as anti-National
There is no denying the fact that the Shaheen Bagh protests have caught the imagination of the entire country. The protest that began in the aftermath of the police attack on Jamia Millia Islamia students at the central university in the heart of Delhi, has not just become bigger, but has also inspired dozens of similar protests in different parts of the country. In Delhi alone, there are as many as a dozen 24-hours protests and new sits in are being planned in many more places.
BJP is trying to pit these sit-ins, mostly led and organized, by women and in some cases by students as anti-national. Home Minister Amit Shah has mentioned the name of Shaheen Bagh on umpteen occasions. While speaking at a poll rally in Delhi’s Babarpur assembly constituency on Sunday, the Union Home Minister said that if the people vote for the BJP in the forthcoming assembly election set to be held on February 8, it will make the country safe. If that was not enough he went on to add in his maverick style that "when you press the button (on the voting machine) on February 8, do so with such anger that its current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”. He further said, "Your vote to the BJP candidate will make Delhi and the country safe and prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh".
The Baburpur meet was not the only occasion when he mentioned Shaheen Bagh. It has been the constant theme of his election speeches over the last many weeks. At a party meet, the maverick politician, who many call the present day Chanakya, said, “We want a Delhi free of pollution, clean water in every household, 24x7 electricity, good facilities for education, no slums or unauthorised colonies, a rapid transport system, cycle tracks, world-class roads where there are no traffic jams and there is never a Shaheen Bagh… we want such a Delhi”. If that was not enough, he also projected the opposition parties including the Congress party and AAP as anti-national, terming them as tukde tukde gang. "This 'tukde-tukde' gang who do politics of division in India question me. Anyone who supports anti-Indian sloganeering is part of that. The AAP and the Congress are part of it", Shah added.
Kejriwal sticking to local issues
However, Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, who seems to have wizened after a series of electoral drubbings, has refused to bite the bait. He hasn’t spoken directly about Shaheen Bagh and has tried to keep his focus on local issues, notably health, education and transportation. While his party colleagues including Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia have spoken in support of the anti-CAA protests, Kejriwal has stuck to the local issues.
He has highlighted the achievements of his government on education and health issues and has tried to shout out the BJP that has been egging him to provoke and speak out on national issues. At an election rally, Kejriwal said, "Don't make education a part of your dirty politics. Please take out time and come with me to visit government schools. You are surrounded by negativity the whole day, meet our students, you will get some positivity. Do positive politics over education”. If that was not enough he unleashed attack of his own against Amit Shah. “I want to ask Amit Shah Ji, what do you even know about education? You have various state governments and the central government with you. Show me one school that you have improved," the chief minister asked.
Apparently, the Delhi chief minister has realized his past follies when he tried to fight elections on national issues and bit the dust. He has also seen as to how the BJP has faltered when challenged to fight elections on local issues. This happened in Jharkhand where the Congress-JMM alliance stuck to the local issues and decimated the BJP that many pollsters claimed was set to win back the state. Sharad Pawar had also done pretty the same thing earlier in Maharashtra to win more seats and leave the BJP in a vulnerable state.
Kejriwal knows this fact and wants to fight the election from a position of strength. Due to improved performance of Delhi government schools and the success of its Mohalla (neighborhood) Clinics, there is considerable support for him and his party. A certain section of population has also benefited from subsidized electricity. All people who consume less than 200 units of electricity don’t have to pay a single penny. There are quite many people who have benefited from this popular scheme of the Kejriwal government and these people are going to vote for him and his party overwhelmingly. While the BJP has made some sort of comeback due to aggressive campaigning led by Amit Shah and other central leaders of the party, the fact that it is slated to be a direct BJP vs AAP fight is going to benefit Kejriwal, at least for now.
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a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October