AAP’s victory or BJP’s defeat: Modi repeats Kejriwal’s mistakes
It's been a long time since an election result brought good news for the Aam Aadmi Party and its leader Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal. But the result of the by-election for the Delhi assembly seat of Bawana has done exactly that.
Following disappointing results in state elections of Punjab and Goa, earlier this year, and then an unexpectedly heavy defeat in those for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the win in Bawana must have brought a much-needed relief to Kejriwal and his party. Especially given the comfortable margin of more than 24,000 votes with which its candidate, Ram Chander, defeated the BJP's candidate.
While supporters of the saffron party would not want too much to be read into such a disappointing defeat, the celebrations of their party's victory in Goa by-polls along with the nature and margin of the defeat in Delhi make, giving attention to AAP's victory logical.
BJP rightly celebrated winning both seats in Goa, one of them by incumbent Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, who the party sent back to the state after a spell as Defence Minister to get back the ground lost in the last election, with even the Prime Minister quick to tweet congratulations to his party's leaders and thank the people of the state for their support.
Similarly, the result in Delhi should be seen as not only a good sign for AAP but also a defeat for the BJP. Especially given that a by-election was only required as the national party wanted it and was able to force it after it was able to poach the then sitting AAP MLA, Ved Prakash, away from his party in March this year just ahead of the MCD polls, and even made him stand as its own candidate this time.
The voters have clearly rejected such political manoeuvring, which is just one of the steps which answer the question whether the BJP lost the election or the AAP won it and show that Modi seems to be repeating the mistakes made by Kejriwal, whereas the latter seems to have learnt from them.
First of these is duplicating Kejriwal's error of turning the tussle between the two parties into a contest of slinging mud at the leader of the other. Kejriwal paid the price of calling Modi names in public ever since the Chief Minister began accusing BJP of trying to create fissures in his party by trying to lure its members away and creating controversies that AAP has found itself surrounded by since it won 67 out of 70 seats in 2015.
No matter what the reality behind the allegations, such name-calling and personal attacks were quickly rejected by the people of the capital, as was seen in the municipality election results where the overwhelming support that the young party had enjoyed till then clearly shifted to the saffron brigade. Yet such a dynamic seems to have been lost on the top leadership of the BJP as they have supported and tried to incite similar attacks on the Chief Minister, using his party members such as Kapil Mishra, among others.
The second mistake of Kejriwal that the BJP led by Modi and his trusted lieutenant, party President Amit Shah, looks intent to replicate is concentrating on an area that leaves them vulnerable and can cause damage. While the chief minister spread his wings too early in an attempt to become a national leader by fielding candidates in states such as Punjab and Goa, the BJP, on the other hand, is doing the exact opposite and focusing too much on Delhi when it clearly doesn't benefit significantly, if at all from it.
Though such a focused attempt to beat down Kejriwal is understandable given that he and his party have been constant thorns for the BJP since the humiliating nature of the defeat in the last assembly elections and stopping what was thought to be an all conquering Modi wave. Still, political tricks of taking away sitting MLA's and using them to malign ex-colleagues, have little advantage for a party well and truly in control of the political climate in the country, with a mandate at the centre unheard of in over three decades and governments in 18 states. And such micromanaging and a defeat after that just leaves it open to a loss of face.
Kejriwal seems to have learnt from these and other mistakes of his, as is quite evident from the understated way that he has been going around with his work since the defeat in the MCD elections, along with the campaigning for this by-election. He has not only toned down his personal attacks on Modi, but also refrained from talking about national issues at a high decibel level, instead focusing on issues of Delhi.
Such a change or learning from the past should not come as a surprise, with him having a track record of reacting to what the people of Delhi convey to him one way or the other. He had been able to extinguish, by travelling through the territory and apologizing, considerable ground level anger and disappointment that the voters had developed as he had resigned only 49 days into the term of his government formed with backing of the Congress, after the electorate had given a fractured mandate, during AAP's maiden foray into electoral politics.
Such an ability has borne fruit again as is clear looking at the huge margin of the victory this time and the people having chosen the party over the previous legislator. Now the ball seems to be in the Modi and BJP's court to decide whether to continue their obsession to attack the Delhi government and the party running it, and risking the ire that might develop in the voters with Lok Sabha elections less than a couple of years away and the capital sending seven members to it, or leaving them alone till 2019 and may be even the next assembly elections in Delhi.
Either way, Kejriwal will feel relieved for now following what has been one of the toughest years for AAP so far, and the BJP would wonder how exactly was it able to not only continue its winning momentum but also only just able to beat the Congress to second place.