It’s a clean sweep for Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi – they’ve bagged 63 of the 70 seats in the capital. As results for the Delhi election poured in on the day of counting, the comprehensive mandate given to Kejriwal by Delhi’s voters felt like a reprieve of sorts, a brief segue into something other than the tense quarrelling over facts and fiction surrounding the Citizenship Amendment Bill. For ardent liberal optimists, Kejriwal’s victory is an endorsement of their opposition to the CAA and if one is to derive from deeper layers, a win of secularism as well. That, however, is as wishful as a whitewashing of the implications of a mandate. To consider this victory as a qualifier for some sort of social overhaul or a BJP retreat on its nationwide divisive agenda is like missing the woods for trees. Social identity after all, runs deeper than ambitious forecasts.
It may sound disheartening but voting margins don’t necessarily validate ideological stands. Even in terms of a vote share the BJP has gained what the Congress has effectively lost. Despite the defeat, a sizeable chunk of the Delhi electorate has therefore identified with BJP’s pitch and chosen identity over development. To claim that AAP is, inch for inch, counterfoil to the BJP’s politics, is wildly inaccurate.
For one, Kejriwal, throughout his campaign did not take a stand on CAA and sidestepped Shaheen Bagh declaring it a distraction conjured by the BJP. After the crackdown in Jamia, days after the Citizenship Act was passed, all Kejriwal did was condemn the violence and call for peace. Kejriwal rose to prominence after the anti-corruption agitation, yet he and his party remained largely mum as Delhi found itself in the midst of passionate protests – by students, mothers, and grandmothers. The only support came from Deputy CM Manish Sisodia when he openly declared, two weeks before the elections, that he stood with the people of Shaheen Bagh and was in no time branded an anti-national by the BJP. The most the Delhi CM did was question how India’s new citizens would find employment.
Had Kejriwal vocally, outright supported the ant-CAA agitation or popped up at location, things would have been different. Secondly, a significant proportion of AAP’s own support base remains worryingly casteist and anti-Muslim, willing to leap to the other side, should it come to a battle between equality and privilege. In duplicating their vote share from 2015, AAP may have demonstrated the power of political upheaval, but it’s somewhat vague inconsistencies over everyday social injustices aren’t as encouraging as their mandate is impressive.
In terms of numbers, the Delhi election could be looked at in a variety of ways. BJP has lost a significant share of its votes from last year’s Lok Sabha elections but have made relative gains on the assembly level. That people are voting differently in regional elections compared to national elections is amply clear. But what it also implies is that while a citizen might vote for the development of their street, at a national level he or she may vote for that street to remain exclusive. The vote in Delhi is for the work the AAP has done – education, mohalla clinics, good governance – but it is in no way a vote against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
It may sound disheartening but voting margins don’t necessarily validate ideological stands.
So even as liberals across India celebrate, the truth is, caste, religion, nationalism, and every social qualifier used by the BJP to win elections will most likely reappear elsewhere, in Bihar and Bengal. This is not necessarily an anti-BJP vote, as much as it is a pro-AAP vote.
A large proportion of the pro-AAP vote bank may well swing to the other side, where Hindutva and the othering of minorities remains an issue. I’d of course love to be proven wrong, but numerical majority doesn’t necessarily spell ideological maturity to me.
Over the course of these elections, I’ve met several Delhi voters who deemed anti-CAA protestors as mutinous elements, and the government at the centre beyond reproach. To them, Kejriwal is a clerical installation, there to do effective paperwork, while Modi and his politics is seen fit to lead the national discourse. It may sound contradictory, but it isn’t, proven by the manner in which Kejriwal has had to shed his feisty activist image to re-emerge a sober politician.
BJP stokes social passions where the roots are deepest. One can’t expect social epiphanies through brief encounters with the ballot. Though Kejriwal seems a bright ray of hope in these dark times, I doubt if he can embrace secularism the Congress has long deserted, the secularism India desperately needs. I doubt if AAP can actually remodel this country’s priorities. This is too soon, too little proof to expect a small, young party to execute national change. I am all for it, but while they may have pushed the BJP over the ledge in the capital, on a national scale, I fear, the needle won’t move. I’d love to be proved wrong.
Manik Sharma writes on Arts and Culture.
This article was first published on Arre
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