By Karan Anand
The Bawana by-poll came as a saving grace for Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, after a streak of losses in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) polls and assembly elections in Goa and Punjab. The Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) retained its Bawana Assembly constituency by a margin of over 24,000 votes. AAP’s Ram Chander won the seat by a huge margin, registering 59,886 votes. BJP came in a distant second with 35,834 votes. The initial rounds appeared to be a close contest between AAP and Congress. However, as the rounds progressed, Congress moved to the third position and AAP retained the constituency. According to Asian News International, CM Arvind Kejriwal was reported saying, “AAP ke vidhayak jis mitti ke bane hain, inhe khareeda nahi jaa sakta (The loyalty of our supporters is not up for sale)”
AAP’s disappointing past performance
The results were a major confidence boost for AAP, especially after its past performance in electoral contests. Despite campaigning extensively in Goa, its failure to secure even a single seat was surprising.
The party also performed poorly in Punjab, considering that it was the favourite in the race. During his pre-election analysis, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy predicted a complete majority for AAP. In the end, it could only manage to win 20 seats out of the total 117.
Even though it has a clear mandate in Delhi, it was crushed in the MCD polls at the hands of the BJP, winning only 48 seats out of a total of 272. It could not even retain its Rajouri Garden seat in a by-poll held earlier this year. The confidence of the workers has been dipping continuously and their performance has been lacklustre.
A shift in the gears
Many observers blamed the party’s strategy of too much ‘negative publicity’ against the centre. They accused Kejriwal of blaming PM Modi for all that went wrong, rather than talking about his own performance. He failed to acknowledge the common sentiment across the country which was mostly in the PM’s favour. Following the defeat in the MCD polls, Kejriwal seemed to have learned his lesson as he toned down his anti-Modi rhetoric.
After the date for the by-poll was announced, the reins were handed over to Delhi Labour Minister, Gopal Rai. Rai and his team stationed themselves in Bawana for more than two and a half months for an extensive door to door campaigning. Taking time out from his busy schedule, the CM also went from door to door, informing people about the work done by his party and talking about his future plans. The fact that the party’s candidate hailed from Shahbad dairy—a slum area—also worked in AAP’s favour. Party leadership remained silent regarding Modi and focussed more on its own pro-poor schemes using traditional means of campaigning.
The Kapil Misra allegations did have a negative impact on its anti-corruption narrative and pushed Kejriwal on the back foot. However, it is safe to say that Kejriwal’s silence against Modi had a positive impact on the by-poll.
BJP’s weak sway over the constituency
Kejriwal’s change in strategy was not only the only contributing factor to AAP’s success. BJP’s poor performance also played its part. It had been in power in MCD for the previous 10 years and its record was not impressive. Due to water logging and filthy condition of the roads, the cases of dengue and chikungunya have increased two-fold in the past 2-3 years. There were more than 750 cases of dengue in the first 9 months of 2016 alone. Additionally, the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) has made life difficult for businessmen. Bawana is home to a lot of businessmen, who probably went against the BJP.
BJP tried to make Modi the face of its campaign and turn the election into a Modi vs Kejriwal contest. People wanted actual results, which BJP was unable to show. The in-fighting within the party also did not help its case.
Both the factors played their part
This victory came at an opportune time for AAP, who had lost a lot of ground recently. Kejriwal’s strategy of focusing on promoting his inclusive policies while restricting criticism of PM Modi has worked this time. Kejriwal did not take a single jibe at Modi even after winning the elections, which would have been hard to imagine a few months back. However, it must cautious to not become complacent since it was just a single seat. The party should continue with its door to door campaign, similar to what it did for the Bawana by-poll. On the other hand, BJP has to move away from making Modi the focus of their campaigns. It needs to address the real issues head-on if the party is to have any chance of coming back to power in Delhi.
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