By Sushil Kutty
Gujarat for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Himachal Pradesh went to Congress. Is that spell equal = equal, overall, neither side won, neither side lost? Delhi’s ‘Big Boss’ Aam Aadmi party failed in both places. And that will gnaw. One day on top of the world, the next day down in the dumps! Like the freebies, gone in two minutes!
The great thing is that everyone has something to brag about. The way for 2024 is being laid and everyone in the reckoning is heading straight for the reckoning. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his two ‘prime minister terms’, AAP will already position Arvind Kejriwal as ‘Challenger No.1’. The only one who stays out of the crowd is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’.
That said, there is the Delhi story, the Gujarat story and the Himachal story. On December 8, Bilkis lost Bano. Gujarat voters did not care that Bilkis rapists were on the loose. It didn’t matter that more than 100 people were killed in Morbi. It didn’t matter that Home Secretary Amit Shah evoked a dark chapter with “we taught them a lesson in 2002”.
The majority of Gujarati Hindus were all in favor of awarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP with the biggest ever election victory. The BJP took full advantage of playing the victim card along with the Hindutva card; claiming that everyone and no one had united against the “people of Gujarat” and “smeared” Gujarat and Gujarati all over the world.
All nonsense of course, but in the election atmosphere it hit the right chord. On 8 December, Gujarat’s outgoing home minister, Amit Shah’s protégé, Harsh Sanghavi, thanked “the voters of Gujarat” for teaching a lesson to those who had offended “Gujarat and Gujarati”.
The not-so-subtle dog whistle hit its mark and resonated well with much of the electorate. The December 8 victory was largely due to a reconsolidation of Hindu votes in favor of the BJP. Bilkis Bano’s gang rapists were allowed to roam free, not just because of “good behavior.” Modi is a master of messaging and he’s done a good job with the ‘Evil 11’. Also, Hindutva remained the BJP’s most rewarding election board. One that doesn’t suffer from diminishing returns.
And certainly not to use and throw. On 7 December, the AAP achieved much of its victory in the Delhi-MCD polls, despite its margin of victory remaining below the exit polls’ polls. The 15 years of anti-incumbency had not paralyzed the BJP. Yet the AAP and Congress, everyone, expected a similar bias in the December 8 exit polls.
But wishes are not horses. And the Gujarat exit polls did not go the Delhi-MCD way. Not only did Modi’s Gujarat model stand against Kejriwal’s Delhi ‘freebie’ model, it also made sense. For the second time in a year after Uttar Pradesh, there are indications that Modi’s ‘labarthi plans’ have outperformed Kejriwal’s ‘revadies’ politically and electorally.
In the interregnum from now and the 2024 General Elections, the Center will bring the “labarthi schemes”, and the kind of ‘awas yojana’ that the Delhi slums recently benefited from, to other corners of India whenever and wherever . when there are elections. Delhi slum dwellers overwhelmingly voted for AAP and these are the kind of voters Modi is targeting with free rations and free 1BHKs.
Here Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an advantage over Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Not only the BJP is rich, the center i.e. Modi government is vastly richer. Going forward, the BJP will and can spend more on AAP in freebies/labarthi schemes and Kejriwal could not help it.
AAP’s victory in Delhi-MCD pales in comparison to BJP’s victories in Uttar Pradesh, and now Gujarat. It is clear that AAP’s Delhi model has not found any takers outside of Delhi, except in Punjab earlier this year, which can be considered an outlier by any means. The coming 2023 will provide AAP with more such opportunities to try its luck and its model.
But the odds are stacked against AAP. Arvind Kejriwal has to and must reinvent the wheel. Freebies for water and electricity alone will not pay off. He should have realized this primal truth by now. Designating a ‘cute child’ as the ‘prabhari’ of a state going to the polls also does not always produce the same result. Raghav Chadha’s clean looks struck gold in Punjab but failed to cut ice with Gujarat’s electorate.
Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s attempts to be a bigger Hindutva icon than Prime Minister Narendra Modi have also come to naught. Why vote for a copy-paste when there is the original? ‘Krishna avatar’ and ‘Lakshmi-Saraswati’ banknote not only succeeded in courting the Hindu but also alienated Muslim confidence and voices.
Also, AAP slashed the Congressional vote bank. And did it with song and dance, except none of the AAP’s song and dance made a dent in the BJP’s prospects either in Gujarat or in Himachal Pradesh where AAP got zero seats and a vote share of just 1, 1 percent.
The difference between BJP and AAP is that while Chief Minister Kejriwal’s freebies are the water and electricity, which cannot be held in the palm of his hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “labarhi schemes” such as “Ujjawala” and ‘Awas Yojana’, have a firmness about them that lingers in the mind and in the guts. The electorate takes their feeling into the election booth.
At the end of the story, it is about whether this is the end of the congress story in Gujarat? The cool climates of Himachal Pradesh won’t tell the story, an analysis of Rahul Gandhi’s absence from the campaign can and probably will. Congress would have to live in the heat and dust of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. This one or another. (IPA service)
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