VOICES FROM THE GROUND: My take on why AAP did what BJP couldn’t – catch the voter’s imagination

I have an observation which may alarm you.

Barring the karyakartas of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), I am honestly yet to hear from a single voter a credible reasoning of why she in the Delhi will cast her ballot for the national party. As much of a shock for you, it has been something very similar for me.

This is not to say they won’t win anything but for a party which accomplished what it did just eight months ago, this has to be very upsetting. What must make it worse is that then, the BJP won all the seven parliamentary seats in Delhi. On the other side, Arvind Kejriwal, the convener of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which was forced to bite dust in the same election seems comfortable.

How did this change of mood come about? The Prime Minister, a very astute politician with his finger on the pulse, still enjoys a lot of popularity. So he could convince the nation but not the electorate of Delhi? Amit Shah, the BJP President who managed the unthinkable in Uttar Pradesh bagging 71 of the 80 seats for the party seems unable to make much of a difference. What has stopped him?

Below lie some observations which have cropped up again and again in my interactions with members of the society from across the divide:

1. What has really changed?

Since the BJP was handed over a victory which was markedly different from anything seen in the country since 1984, expectations were (and remain) sky high and eight months is hardly a short time. Yes, the economy is looking up, the sentiment is on the ascent but for the man on the street, a lot of convincing needs to be done.

“It is winter in Delhi and the prices of vegetables have hardly dropped. When fuel prices kept going up, they said vegetables too will get costlier since it is all linked but now fuel prices have dropped, my vegetables still aren’t as cheap,” asserted a middle class man, the breadwinner in his family. My drivers recall with remarkable joy how during Arvind Kejriwal’s much discussed 49-day tenure, the traffic police would not accept bribes out of fear. “Now, it is back to business as usual. Kisi ka dar nahee” he cussed. Kejriwal is also remembered for making good on his promise to rein in the ever-suspicious ‘bijli companiya’ and reduce bills.

Similar is the response in so far as issues of public order are concerned. “Uber rape case happened, churches are getting vandalized and unwanted elements from the right wing groups keep mouthing non sensical words with no real reprimand coming. So tell me where is the change that was promised?” asked a management professional sitting inside his plush office.

2. “Modiji foreign walon ke saath busy rehte hai”

There is definite merit in what PM is trying, early on in his tenure, in garnering as much foreign investment as is possible. India needs it. Unless the money comes in and infrastructure shapes up, the India story is going nowhere, make no mistake.

Question here is how are people viewing it? “Modiji ko India mein dhyaan dena chahiye. Foreign walon ke saath bahut ghoom rahe hai”, said a paanwala. Like him, for those who the government is unable to reach and convince about this, the picture is hardly pretty. If anything, perception is that the PM is more active abroad. Recently, a question was asked to a poll survey sample if and how much were they influenced to vote for the BJP after seeing Barack Obama in India? An overwhelming majority said it did not make any impact.

When the perception is that not much is changing, to see your PM laughing, sharing hugs with foreign leaders and generally having a good time, can prove a tad detrimental or so it seems.

3. Being treated badly

Government employees in Delhi form a major constituency. And they, especially, seem to have an axe to grind against the PM and by extension against BJP. From the controversy over bringing down retirement age to biometric attendance system (towards enforcing the 9am attendance rule) to launching of grand government schemes of holidays (which mean leaves get canned) are cited to justify resentment.

Said a Defence Ministry staffer, “We are not like the municipality where nobody works and you have to push. We actually end up working a little beyond and yet the treatment meted out to us is the same like those who have no work”. It is anybody’s guess who benefits from this resentment.

4. Modi, Modi etc

From rants about why BJP has nothing but Modi to go to voters with to why PM is busy seeking votes for a tiny state when he already has the country to why isn’t PM focussing on issues like price rise to budget to governance to how come PM wants to use harsh language against someone like Kejriwal who can’t even be seen in comparison to how the entire Modi cabinet is deployed on wining Delhi when they have bigger tasks given to them by the country and the like. I get a sense that people are getting too much of Modi.

In addition, what can’t be ruled out are factors like nurturing an opposition. Like my taxi driver mentioned, “Congress toh khatam ho gayee hai aur BJP bahut takatwar ho gayee hai. Aam Aadmi ko chance milna chahiye”. One has also heard murmurs about how the top-down induction of Kiran Bedi has ensured that not many in BJP cadres identify and relate with her. 

Is it my case that the AAP has run a blemish-free campaign? Have they done no wrong? Kejriwal looked beyond himself and had to pay the price during the Lok Sabha elections. History will repeat if he again gets carried away. Time and more importantly sentiments are, for now, supporting him. His 49-day government, much to the annoyance of his detractors, is something that people have come to recall as an experiment worth trying again. A glimpse of a genuine change is what they saw and that is what is propelling this surge now.

Before I wrap up this piece which I chose to write from the backseat of my taxi on the day polling has begun, I must also share with you the final worthwhile comment I picked up from the newspaper vendor from the street. It is a warning to Kejriwal and to all those who will vote for him. After all what is democracy but the janta keeping everyone on the edge.

“AAP seems to be surging and we will vote for them but I sincerely hope he won’t start cribbing about how Modi is scuttling his plans, how BJP is failing him. I hope he won’t start his dharna politics for if he does, use bhi dhool chata denge”.


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