Is Amit Shah repeating same blunders in Delhi that led to BJP’s rout in 2015?
In the 2015 Delhi election campaign, the BJP had tried discrediting Arvind Kejriwal as a part of its strategy. PM Modi had called Kejriwal a "Pakistani agent". But AAP succeeded in weaving the poll narrative around its manifesto, and won. And for the BJP, the strategy yielded disastrous results. In this election, it seems only the characters have changed. Now it's Amit Shah who is likening the Delhi CM with Pakistan PM Imran Khan.
When Amit Shah was addressing an election rally in Delhi’s Babarpur locality last evening, anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) slogans were raised. This act of dissent was met with an iron fist. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters were soon caught on camera thrashing dissenters with chairs. Despite the Union Home Minister’s appeal, his supporters continued to beat one particular dissenter. Thankfully, Shah rushed the security to the spot to save the protester.
Incidentally, Shah in the same locality had asked the voters to “vote with such force that Shaheen Bagh feels the current.” The former BJP chief has been leading the saffron party’s campaign for Delhi assembly election. And in doing so, he has set the party’s agenda.
The BJP is fighting this election on the plank of national issues, particularly the CAA and the abrogation of Article 370. Shah has been targeting the anti-CAA protests and putting the Shaheen Bagh protesters in the dock. Shah has verbally attacked Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and categorised him as a friend of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. In all his small and big election speeches, Shah said something on the lines that Kejriwal and Imran Khan speak the same language.
There is a pattern to his speeches, made during a flurry of meetings he addressed last week. He spends most of his time attacking the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party, and questioning the track record of the AAP government. During these addresses, Shah ends up dropping a promise or two about what the BJP would do if elected to power.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new in Shah’s campaign strategy. It’s a repetition of the BJP’s 2015 campaign plan. Back then it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was attacking AAP convener Kejriwal. Modi had called him a “Pakistani agent”, AK-49, and even an “anarchist”. But due to his fixation on Kejriwal and the rookie party, PM Modi forgot to convey to the people of Delhi what the BJP would do if elected to power.
Back then, the AAP had kept themselves focused on their poll promises and on Delhi based issues. The AAP had succeeded in weaving the poll narrative around their manifesto. When the results were out, the BJP had to face a humiliating defeat. They won only three out of the 70 assembly seats.
It seems under Shah, the BJP is repeating the same blunders in Delhi which led to its rout in the 2015 assembly polls.
Shah, nationalism and Shaheen Bagh
In one of the election meetings, Shah said that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and AAP convenor Kejriwal speaks the same language as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. He further added, “can Delhi be safe in such hands?” Shah tried to raise this as an issue of national security.
In another election address, the saffron party chief said that the the AAP campaign is backed by a section of media, Non-Government Organisations (NGO) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
The phrase “tukde-tukde” gang has featured in his election speeches as well. Shah has accused the AAP-led government of trying to shield the tukde-tukde gang by not giving its ascent to the sedition charges being pressed against former JNU scholars – Kanhaiya Kumar and others.
This has remained a constant feature of the BJP’s campaign in Delhi for the past several months. Delhi BJP has made spoof videos portraying Kanhaiya as “anti-national” and Kejriwal’s team as his supporters.
BJP chief JP Nadda has taken the debate to another level. He accused Kanhaiya, Umar Khalid and other “anti-India forces” of “threatening to violate India’s sovereignty” in JNU. Posing a question at Kejriwal, Nadda tweeted, “Kejriwal must tell Delhi, why is he supporting those who want to break India? Is it because acting against these anti-nationals will hurt his vote bank?” Such attacks are only expected to gain intensity in the coming days.
The BJP is also trying to connect activist Sharjeel Imam, now accused of sedition and sections of the UAPA, with Kejriwal’s party. Imam was one of the key activists of the Shaheen Bagh road-blockade. But he disassociated himself from it on January 2. Imam has been charged under different sections by different state police including Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The videos circulated by Delhi BJP have Imam and AAP leader Amanatullah Khan in it.
Attacking the AAP on the CAA issue, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said, "Kejriwal sympathises with people raising 'Jinnah wali Azadi' slogans, not the persecuted minorities".
Importantly, both AAP and BJP have daggers drawn over the Shaheen Bagh protest. While the BJP and Shah have accused the AAP and Congress of sponsoring the road-blockade, Kejriwal responded by accusing the BJP of playing “dirty politics” over the issue. He has retorted saying that law and order comes under the BJP-led Central government and they don’t want to get the route cleared.
While Kejriwal has largely remained quiet on the issue of the anti-CAA protests and the Shaheen Bagh road-blockade, the BJP has projected it has one of the key electoral issues. Shah himself has been asking the voters to vote for the BJP so that there are no Shaheen Baghs in Delhi. The BJP leaders, in their speeches and through several videos, have tried to link the violence during anti-CAA protest with the AAP. They are claiming these incidents of rampage were sponsored by AAP leaders.
Notably, in his rallies, Shah has been asking his supporters - what is the vote bank which is making the AAP and Congress’ support the anti-CAA protests. And the crowd responds – Muslim. He also says that these protestors have been misled by the Opposition parties. All this is usually followed by chants of Bharat Mata Ki Jai.
Shah has been also raking up the abrogation of Article 370 in his speeches. As a mark of achievement, Shah is reminding the voters how Delhi gave seven seats to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and within months they abrogated Article 370.
Constantly, the former BJP Chief Shah and his team have been talking about these national issues and how the AAP government has been a failure. When Shah claimed that the Kejriwal government didn’t install CCTV cameras in Delhi, as promised during the 2015 elections, the AAP leadership released video footage of the former BJP chief caught on these CCTV cameras. By questioning them, the BJP seems to have given the AAP a chance to showcase its pet projects.
When Shah questioned the work done in Delhi government schools, Kejriwal jumped on the opportunity asking the Union Home Minister to accompany him to the government schools. So again the focus gets shifted on the AAP.
Kejriwal has dubbed these allegations as an “insult” to Delhi voters. While addressing public meetings, he has been focusing on his “report card” and what the AAP intends to do in the next five years. The attack on the BJP and Congress gets a minority share in these addresses. And name-calling seems to have nearly vanished from his speeches – something which used to be a constant feature in his speeches until the Lok Sabha election debacle. It seems the AAP has learnt from its mistakes.
However, the BJP seems fixated to the same pitch which proved lethal for the saffron party in 2015 Delhi assembly polls - focus on attacking the Opposition and less effort to BJP’s poll promises.
In January 2015, PM Modi had advised Kejriwal to join Naxals due to his “anarchist” tendencies. PM Modi had asked voters to teach a lesson to those who had forced the President’s rule on Delhi post-2013 assembly polls, following the government’s resignation. Delhi did teach them a lesson. The BJP was reduced to three seats.
Back in 2015, PM Modi had requested Delhi to elect the BJP so that he can fulfil his dream of building houses in place of jhuggi-jhopdis for the slum dwellers. This continues to be the key promises of the BJP in 2020. The only change is that instead of PM Modi, now it’s former BJP chief Amit Shah who makes the pitch. The BJP is yet to release its manifesto for the polls, let alone begin the canvassing for it.
It seems the BJP is seeking a mandate in favour of the CAA and against Kejriwal in Delhi’s 2020 battle. The larger question is - will the same strategy which was employed by PM Modi in 2015 and resulted in a disaster, work for the BJP in 2020?