Consider what every Modi hater would say about Narendra Modi a couple of years ago:
- He is just a PR creation. APCO is backing him.
- He has support only on internet, can only become Prime Minister of Twitter.
- He may win Gujarat, but India is not Gujarat.
Now consider what many BJP supporters say about Arvind Kejriwal of late:
- He is just a media creation. Lutyens media is backing him.
- He has got only army of AAPtards trending hashtags, no ground support.
- He may win Delhi, but India is not Delhi.
Does it sound like Arvind Kejriwal is on his way to become the next Prime Minister of India after winning Delhi thrice, just like Modi won Gujarat thrice earlier? And, well, technically he has won Delhi twice already!
The BJP has to realize that the “bhagoda” Kejriwal is here to stay for the long race. They can continue to reject him like Modi haters used to reject Modi, and thus help Kejriwal become the next Prime Minister of India, or analyze this phenomenon and learn their lessons.
In this article, I try to analyze what made Kejriwal click with Delhi’s audience and why BJP’s strategies failed.
It’s beyond doubt that most journalists were backing AAP. Some backed it due to ideology (anti-Hindutva), while others thought Kejriwal to be the quintessential anti-establishment guy who should win lest the center (Modi government) becomes too powerful and arrogant.
There is no point blaming the media for “defeating” BJP. It is like “blaming” AAP for defeating BJP.
Personally, I believe that journalism (especially op-ed journalism, as against plain vanilla reporting) is just another field of politics (as against power/party politics). Thus media represents another political battlefield, and the wars have to be won there only.
The media war is about disseminating information, building perception, and controlling narrative. All these are largely controlled and influenced by the mainstream media. But in this digital age, and in an urban area like Delhi, it is not impossible to use alternate tools (weapons) and platforms (battlefields) to win this war.
BJP didn’t seem to have any special communication strategy, while AAP had.
The AAP volunteers were the news anchors and their pamphlets were the newspapers in streets of Delhi. They were number one on social media, as BJP used to be a couple of years back, employing every trick, clean and dirty, that BJP ever employed.
Remember that BJP was never the favorite of mainstream media anyway, but they still won many elections. Because they could communicate to the voters through other means – the most traditional way being the RSS volunteers communicating with the locals – but in Delhi, they failed.
This could also mean that RSS is losing when it comes to communicating in urban areas, especially to the under-25 youth. BJP and RSS both need to analyze and introspect over this.
BJP badly needs a media strategy and a better communication strategy after this.
Many journalists, including those seen inclined towards the BJP, have blamed the statements by likes of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Sakshi Maharaj and other motley groups like Hindu Mahasabha for pushing away the benign Hindu Middle Class away from BJP towards AAP.
There is no doubt that many Hindus, who’d otherwise want to vote for BJP, are disgusted by such statements. But there is also no doubt that there are many Hindus who will stop voting for BJP if they don’t hear such statements ever (they are the HDLs – as explained in one of my earlier posts)!
I won’t be politically correct (and spend a few paragraphs explaining why these fringe groups are disgusting, which they are) and will bluntly say that this problem of “fringe group” is essentially a problem of “communication”.
AAP, with some help from media, has got it absolutely right. On one hand the party caters to Islamist feelings and gives ticket to a person who put up communally sensitive posters in Okhla, on another hand it rejects the support of Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid.
BJP needs to learn this art. It will be challenging as media won’t support, but this art has to be mastered.
This is more for the Twitter obsessed crowd. Even I have been guilty of reducing AAP to just “Socialism” and “Idea of India” (basically anti-Hinduism when used within quotes) on Twitter, but this is not the way an ordinary Delhi voter looks at the party.
He still largely sees AAP as a party that can stop bribes and that can give cheaper bijli and paani. Thus there is no need to draw any ideological inferences from this victory by AAP.
Just like the entire India did not become “Sanghi” after voting for Modi, the entire Delhi has not become “Sickular” after voting for Kejriwal. Fact is – most people won’t identify themselves with any of these ideologies.
However, the challenge is to reach out to these people and endear them towards your own ideology. AAP represents the risk that it will endear the youth to the “Idea of India” hogwash that will make them naturally allergic to everything Hindu, and thus anti-BJP by default.
This risk exists because most of the core members of AAP subscribe to such ideology and their mission will be to spread it. Currently, a very small core of the party’s support base has been infected by this, which comes out quite openly on Twitter, but the bulk of the AAP voters don’t yet identify with this ideology.
No matter what the “liberals” might like to imagine, India remains a bit of Hindu in ethos. Kejriwal recognizes it. Which is why he takes dip in Ganga in Benaras and starts quoting Bhagwad Gita as polling day in Delhi approaches. It’s not easy to convey the risk of “Idea of India” AAP possesses when an average voter witnesses these.
So far as “socialism” is concerned, India still suffers from socialist hangover and it’s only the modern educated urban youth that considers socialism as curse.
It is not easy to defeat AAP on ideology as it projects as if its only ideology is “anti corruption” and “good intentions” – both are hardly ideologies – here the BJP can only hope that AAP falters and exposes itself on both “Socialism” and “Idea of India” fronts.
The Hindu Middle Class preferred AAP because it didn’t see these risks as prominently as some on Twitter saw. Additionally, who doesn’t want cheaper bijli and paani? It’s a tough fight on this front.
“The urban poor”
Almost every taxi and auto driver in Delhi confirms that they were not harassed by traffic policemen during those 49 days when Kejriwal was the Chief Minister.
These nagging bribes and harassment is what symbolizes “corruption” and “good governance” for the urban poor. And which is why this class voted overwhelmingly in favor of Kejriwal.
BJP couldn’t reach out to this class at all, who were meanwhile bombarded with messages that the Modi government was all about helping the industrialists.
However, let’s be clear – the urban poor don’t necessarily hate the rich.
I remember one of those made-for-TV interactions that Rahul Gandhi had with some poor cycle rickshaw pullers in Uttar Pradesh during run up to the 2014 General Elections. Rahul Gandhi asked one rickshaw puller how he felt when someone passed by him in a swanky air-conditioned car while he had to struggle for his meals under scorching sun. Perhaps the Congress Vice President thought that the rickshaw puller would say that he felt cheated and he wanted some “rights” over resources.
Instead, the rickshaw puller said “woh uska naseeb hai” (it is his destiny) about the guy who was traveling in the swanky car in Rahul Gandhi’s question. He quickly added that all he wanted was dignity in what he was doing, no harassment by policemen, and some education for his kids.
This dignity and freedom from harassment to the urban poor was given by Kejriwal, which is why the urban poor went for him rather than for Rahul Gandhi who kept promising various “rights” to this class.
It is not the perceived closeness with industrialists that hurt BJP, but lack of some tangible benefits that this class could experience in the first few months of Modi government – contrast this with the experience they had under Kejriwal government in those 49 days.
The urban poor are not demanding the moon. But if they don’t get even the bare minimum, they will start believing that the government is indeed pro-rich and anti-poor.
The least BJP could have done is have Swachchh Bharat campaign regularly and exclusively in areas where the urban poor reside.
While it might be the case of hindsight being 20/20, but BJP’s strategies didn’t make sense. The time they got between the two elections was never used to counter AAP in a language the aam aadmi could understand.
Inducting Kiran Bedi into the party at the nth hour and then declaring her the CM candidate appeared impressive only on Twitter. On ground, it appeared as if BJP was panicky. On Twitter too it started appearing a bad choice as Bedi came across as someone who could be easily manipulated by media, thus not helping with the very first issue I listed in this article.
Either Amit Shah got it terribly wrong, or he did it on purpose as some conspiracy theory suggests i.e. losing Delhi so that it helps the BJP in long run. Okay, let me admit. I’m one of the proponents of that conspiracy theory 😉
As I had suggested way back in this tweet, an AAP victory could mean Congress becoming so weak that it doesn’t bounce back even in 2019, while it is very unlikely (unless BJP screws up on all the above counts) that AAP will grow to become a national force by 2019.
But conspiracy theories aside, Delhi results are a major setback to the BJP, but a much needed one. The party needs to introspect and go for course correction else Arvind Kejriwal as the Prime Minister is waiting to happen.