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Lessons to learn from Delhi election

February 17, 2020 09:45 IST
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The politics of hate does not pay. The people are too sensible to fall for such a ruse, says Amulya Ganguli.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/


There are a number of lessons for the political class from the outcome of the Delhi elections.

For the BJP, the message is that the politics of hate does not pay.

The people are too sensible to fall for such a ruse.

No matter how popular is the prime minister or how formidable is the home minister, the people will not be fooled by their pretence that they are the only saviours of the nation against 'traitors' who should be shot, as the Union minister of state for finance said at an election rally.

The home minister, Amit Anilchandra Shah, has distanced the party from this remark as also from the one which compared the Delhi contest to an India-Pakistan battle.

Two days after the results were announced, Shah has said the party may have suffered because of these remarks.

As is obvious, it is an afterthought because the BJP had asked one of its MPs to open the debate in Parliament on the President's address although he had said that that the Muslims of Shaheen Bagh would rape and kill Hindus.

Shaheen Bagh is a Delhi locality where Muslim women have been staging a sit-in demonstration in protest against the citizenship laws which, they believe, are detrimental to the interests of Muslims.

It remains to be seen whether the BJP will listen to Shah and rein in others like a Union minister who said that Shaheen Bagh was the breeding ground for suicide bombers.

Or whether the increase in the BJP's vote share from 32.3 per cent in 2015 to 38.4 in 2020 will convince some in the party that it is not electorally harmful to spew hate, as a few have said.

The Bihar election later this year will show which of the two paths the BJP will follow.

As for the Aam Aadmi Party, its routing of a powerful adversary will convey to the political class the message that nothing succeeds like quiet work at the ground level in providing bijli-sadak-pani (electricity, roads and drinking water) to the people.

Even more than these three facilities, which were not free of defects in Delhi, what helped the AAP are the mohalla clinics in a large number of localities, providing basic medical care, and the improvement in the condition of government schools.

That West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already drawn a lesson from the Delhi outcome can be seen from her decision to provide free electricity to those with the quarterly consumption of 75 units.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has for some time been flooding television screens with pictures of what he has been doing for the farmers and other poorer sections.

The country will heave a sigh of relief if all this signal a change from the exploitation of what is called identity politics relating to castes and communities to a new kind of politics, as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said, concerning mainly the economic field.

Narendra Damodardas Modi has been engaged in such populism for some time, building houses and toilets, and providing electricity and cooking gas, among other things.

That these measures have helped him is evident from the results of last year's parliamentary polls.

But what are also believed to have boosted the BJP's prospects are its hyper nationalism and demonisation of Muslims and Left-Liberals.

However, by overdoing this second factor, the BJP may have come a cropper in terms of seats in the Delhi assembly election.

Interestingly, AAP can be said to have appropriated some of the BJP's pro-Hindu agenda as slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram by AAP supporters show.

The AAP is also projecting itself as a devotee of Hanuman just as the BJP extols Ram.

Kejriwal has been visiting temples dedicated to Hanuman in a gesture recalling Rahul Gandhi's temple hopping before the parliamentary polls.

While these overt acts of religiosity can be described as instances of 'soft' Hindutva, these examples of obeisance are different from the BJP's 'hard' version in the sense that AAP's and the Congress's recourse to what can be called the Hindu card is not accompanied by anti-Muslim diatribes which are associated with the BJP, such as an MP's warning that Shaheen Bagh is a precursor of the Mughal raj.

Kejriwal's Hinduism is similar to the creed followed by millions of his co-religionists whose worship of Hindu deities is not accompanied by the kind of visceral hatred of Muslims which is the hallmark of bigots.

It is perhaps for this reason that Hindus have turned in increasing numbers to AAP, having been offended by the BJP's venom, as Shah has suspected.

The new kind of politics, therefore, which Kejriwal is espousing is marked, first, by a focus on welfare measures even if his critics deride them as freebees.

And, secondly, by a reassertion of a sane version of religiosity where a Hindu or a Muslim or a person of any other persuasion will follow his or her faith in the privacy of homes or in places of worship without accusing others of being disloyal to the nation or engaged in a sinister jihadi conspiracy to undermine 'rival' faiths.

Needless to say, such harmonious, live-and-let-live, co-existence has been a longstanding feature of Indian pluralism.

AAP's victory is a popular affirmation of this age-old aspect of the Indian scene.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

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