by Nilofar Suhrawardy 11 February 2020
Notwithstanding all the hype raised and spread against Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its leader, particularly Arvind Kejriwal by saffron brigade, the party has swept the Delhi Assembly elections for the third time in a row. In the 70-member Delhi Assembly, AAP’s key rival, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not been able to win 10 seats. What is more significant is that AAP’s victory is not confined to winning just more fifty percent of the seats. The party, as Election Commission website indicates has won more than fifty percent of the votes cast. This is a major development compared to BJP’s stunning victory in 2019 parliamentary elections. BJP won more than 50 percent seats in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) but only 37.36 percent of the votes. This difference says a lot more about AAP’s victory than apparent.
Instantly, one is compelled to accept that attempts made by saffron brigade linked with BJP and BJP itself to try and polarize the vote-banks in Delhi along “religious” lines failed against AAP. Here, one may draw attention to the sudden alacrity with which BJP passed several Bills through the Parliament soon after assuming power. These were withdrawal of Article 370 (which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir), Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill and regarding Triple Talaq (divorce exclusively concerning Muslims).
Besides, the government did not take long in pronouncing its stand on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). While people in general chose not to pronounce their stand on the government’s initial moves, they reacted strongly to its stand on CAA-NRC-NPR. The BJP-led government was probably under the impression that its stand upon helping “oppressed minorities” in a few neighboring countries and granting them Indian citizenship would be welcomed. It has not been. The crux was (and is) the discriminatory nature of these moves targeting Muslims, in an attempt to deprive them of their Indian citizenship, silently. Practically, the entire Indian community rose against this, demanding withdrawal of CAA-NRC-NPR.
Shaheen Bagh, with Muslim ladies of all age groups protesting against CAA-NRC-NPR, became the epicenter of this movement. The ladies were (and are) strongly supported by people, men and women, of all communities. BJP leaders were probably hopeful that its jargons targeting Shaheen Bagh would help it in attracting Hindu votes in Delhi polls. As is evident, the party has failed. Paradoxically, BJP failed to understand the secular message being conveyed by those protesting against CAA-NRC-NPR across the country. The party failed to understand the negative impact which violence displayed those allegedly linked with saffron brigade against students and others in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), Jamia Nagar and other places would have on its own image.
The party and its saffron brigade associates remained under the impression that display of anti-Muslim bias in their speeches and through other means would help them gain Hindu-vote along religious lines. There is a perception that by visiting Hindu temples and not visiting Shaheen Bagh, Kejriwal and his party members played cautiously against the religious card used by BJP and its associates. Means of communication, including WhatsApp, used by saffron brigade also spread messages projecting Kejriwal as “pro-Muslim,” “a terrorist” and so forth. Kejriwal’s religious identity is his personal matter. Who doesn’t visit places of worship, linked with his/her religious identity, simply to pray for success, give thanks and for other purposes. So, from this angle, why should religious identity of Kejriwal be brought in? There is a view that he did this “primarily” to gain “Hindu-votes.” Against this logic, if Delhi voters had chosen to be polarized along religious lines, religious-card being used for decades by saffron-brigade should have helped BJP. It did not.
BJP has not held power in Delhi Assembly since 1998. Congress held power of Delhi State with Sheila Dikshit as chief minister for three consecutive terms (1998 to 2013). Subsequently, the reins have in hands of AAP with Kejriwal as chief minister. It may be noted, even when BJP’s “religious” jargon, seemed to be at almost its peak, particularly over Ayodhya-issue, Congress was in power in Delhi Assembly. Besides, there is a difference between being religious and communal. One can be extremely religious and also secular. This is the basic identity of the Indian secular spirit. It has been displayed at Shaheen Bagh also where people of all religious communities perform their respective religious services. They remain religious as well as secular without turning communal.
There is another angle to perception raised about AAP members visiting temples. Who is not aware of Kejriwal’s religious identity? Had he not visited temples, it would have remained the same. His religious identity cannot be assumed to have changed and/or increased because of his visiting temples. Besides, his temple-visits were not used by him or his party members as political card for their electoral campaign. Their communication strategy chose to give prime importance to their development agenda, particularly education, water-supply, electricity-bills and so forth. Rather, had AAP not succeeded in taking major strides in these areas during his term in power, prospects of its winning these elections would have been fairly limited.
With respect to saffron brigade painting Kejriwal as a pro-Muslim, a terrorist and so forth, this was apparently a move to prevent Hindu votes from favoring him. What an irony. Even today, extremist elements depend on use of religious and communal cards to turn political wave in their favor and against their key political rivals. It may be pointed out, Muslim population of Delhi is around 13 % and that of Hindus – 80 %. The third key party in Delhi Assembly elections, the Congress chose to deliberately stay in the background. There is thus nothing surprising about it having failed to win a single seat. This decision was taken by Congress, according to reliable sources, to avoid a split in anti-BJP votes. Division of these votes may have then helped BJP gain at the expense of AAP and Congress. The key agenda of Congress was, as apparent, to prevent BJP from gaining power in Delhi. This was also the key focus of Congress supporters. So, however closely they may be politically affiliated with the Congress, they chose to vote for AAP to help it win. These include Muslim and non-Muslim voters of Delhi.
If AAP had been supported by primarily Muslim voters, it would have gained less than 50% votes. The same would have been the case if Hindus had not voted for it. Considering that turnout of voters was 61.5%, it means that nearly 40% chose not to cast their votes. Votes and seats received by AAP indicate that even if the turnout had been greater, prospects of his party emerging the winner would have prevailed. Here, credit must also be given to Congress for not having played a spoilsport by exercising its strategy to ensure that BJP remains out of power. The same political strategy has been exercised by Indian voters. Rather than be swayed by saffron brigade’s communal agenda, they chose to favor the development agenda of AAP, judging the latter against the background of its accomplishments.
It is possible, soon after assuming power at the center, the party played certain cards with an eye on winning the scheduled assembly elections. These refer to Article 370, CAA and others mentioned earlier. These have not succeeded so far. Delhi is the latest instance of BJP’s defeat following Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly elections. In Haryana, BJP succeeded in forming state government only after reaching an alliance with a regional party and several independent legislators.
With respect to Delhi, there is no denying that BJP and its saffron associates went overboard in using every possible card to win these elections. Clearly, it is time that BJP and its saffron associates reconsidered their campaign strategy. The right-winged elements need to comprehend the non-existent of vote-banks in India, exclusively along religious lines. Specifically speaking, there is no Hindu vote-bank and no Muslim vote-bank. No party can claim to be representative of the entire Hindu community and/or of Muslims in the country. Opposition being displayed by people cutting across religious barriers to CAA-NRC-NPR is one stronger indicator of this reality. BJP’s defeat in Delhi further confirms this reality. Indian secularism is too strongly rooted to be defeated by communal jargon indulged in by a few leaders. The latter do not represent Hindu community of the entire country. This point is supported by spread of regional parties in the country. Communal card has limited and/or no appeal across the country. Prior to BJP’s defeat in Delhi, opposition displayed by various regional parties to CAA-NRC-NPR was apparently not paid serious attention by BJP. It has failed to note that majority of these parties largely consist of Hindus. AAP’s victory in Delhi, where Muslims’ population is less than 15%, may be viewed as a strong victory of Indian secularism. And this secularism is not confined to secular masks donned at time of campaign!