By M.R. Narayan Swamy
For a party that was written off after its humiliating rout in the Lok Sabha election, the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) has seen a spectacular renewal ahead of the Delhi assembly polls. Irrespective of who actually wins the Saturday battle, the AAP is giving sleepless nights to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), just nine months after the latter easily won all seven parliamentary seats in the national capital.
BJP leaders admit that the AAP is giving them a tough fight all over the city, with some pre-poll surveys stunningly giving the AAP more vote share than the BJP. With the Congress relegated to an also ran in the election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made former chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP the prime target in his speeches.
And in what is being seen as a sign of nervousness, the BJP has roped in more than 120 MPs, several cabinet ministers as well as chief ministers and legislators from other states to campaign in Delhi.
This was not the case when it fought elections recently in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand where the “Modi magic” did wonders.
Both for the BJP, which has had a presence in Delhi for decades, and the AAP, which was born only in 2012, this is a do-or-die election.
The BJP needs to win it at all costs to prove that Modi’s magic will help reverse the hung verdict of December 2013 that propped up Kejriwal’s AAP into office with Congress backing – for 49 tumultuous days.
When Kejriwal resigned in February 2014, the BJP derisively branded him a “bhagoda” (quitter). And when all but four of the hundreds of AAP candidates were routed in the Lok Sabha election last year, he was dubbed a failed leader with no future.
In a few remarkable months, Kejriwal and the AAP have bounced back deftly in a manner that even RSS mouthpiece Organiser has cautioned the BJP not to take the AAP challenge slightly.
AAP election rallies attract large crowds. Kejriwal, who poses himself as a messiah of the poor, is at his aggressive best, targeting Modi over his Lok Sabha election promises and some BJP leaders for making controversial comments.
The other AAP speaker who holds crowds spellbound is Bhagwant Mann, an MP from Sangrur in Punjab.
Several factors seem to have helped the AAP to grow exponentially in Delhi.
One factor helping it, particularly among the poor, is its 2013 decision to slash power rates and make water virtually free. Even AAP critics admit that routine bribery virtually disappeared when Kejriwal was the chief minister.
Instead of moaning, the AAP quietly spread its wings all across Delhi after the Lok Sabha setback, establishing new cells particularly in low-income areas and urban villages.
The AAP also began planning for the Delhi election months ahead of both the BJP and the Congress.
The controversial utterances of some BJP leaders on religious issues appears to have pushed Muslims and Christians to back the AAP after ditching the Congress.
Modi’s punishing work schedule has not gone down well with government staff. Many among them feel the only way to hit back is to vote for the AAP.
The decisions to make students listen to the prime minister’s speech on Teacher’s Day (Sep 5) and declare Dec 25 as Good Governance Day, initially sparking fears that Christmas was being dropped from the holiday list, created resentment even among those who voted for Modi last year.
And the move to make Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman police officer, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate created unrest in the party – and seems to have in no way unnerved the AAP.
After realizing that their own party is in shambles, many traditional Congress supporters have decided to back the AAP.
Finally, on top of the limited middle class support it has, the AAP is receiving support from those who feel that BJP leaders have grown arrogant after taking power in May 2014.
To sum it up, the AAP is a strong contender for power, giving the BJP a run for its money.