In recent months, the prime minister and his senior ministerial colleagues have been cockily telling the desi bureaucrats and videshi diplomats that the Bharatiya Janata Party had a strategic edge over its political rivals because it alone has the gift of reading public aspirations and ambitions right. It is this self-belief that bred a certain kind of Tughlaqi arrogance in its national leadership. That conceit stands refuted as the voters in Delhi have inflicted a humiliating defeat on the much-touted new “Chanakyas”.
The Delhi voters have, as a matter of fact, followed only their counterparts in Jharkhand in rubbishing the myth that the Amit Shah and his crowd had mastered the art of gaming the electoral contests at all levels. Only the Delhi voters have done so with a staggering finesse. But the BJP managers have themselves to blame for converting the Delhi assembly contest into a battle of Panipat. The most invincible and the shrewdest street fighter in the land himself led the charge, from mohalla to mohalla, from this nukkad to that corner park; the great strategist had devised this plan to inflict a blitzkrieg, aimed at rendering the Delhi voters overwhelmed.
The master tactician’s efforts were copiously supplemented by that over-sold, over-estimated group called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Jhandewalan crowd is nobody’s fool but it allowed itself to be enlisted by the faux-Chanakyas in the Delhi battle. The television anchors were sufficiently impressed by the ability of this bunch of swayamsevaks to ‘bring the vote out’. Too much was made of voting in the last hour on February 8.
The importance of the Delhi outcome is that the myth that the Amit Shah crowd is the master of the election universe stands busted. And this organisational model will be studied well beyond the national capital. In their echo-chambers, the BJP bosses and their cheerleaders in the media could not hear the murmur of disapproval: not fair. Deep down, the voters felt their innate sense of fairness violated. How could a ruler deploy such a disproportionate firepower against a tiny little adversary?
The second myth that was cracked in Delhi is this national security mumbo-jumbo. The BJP bosses chose to hawk themselves as the sole and robust guardians of the nation’s well-being. Predictably, this ‘strong India’ pitch was used to peddle the old, familiar communal wares. The new Chanakyas who pat themselves on the back for creating a mood seized upon the Shaheen Bagh democratic assertion to knead the most disagreeable imageries and innuendos into the election discourse.
But the Delhi voters could see through the BJP’s sleight of hand. Nothing helped the BJP notch up a respectable double-digit figure in Delhi.
Not that the voters in Delhi lack in patriotism or that they do not appreciate the need for vigilance against threats to our national security. What the voters in Delhi ended up conveying to our new rulers is that the invocation of ‘security’ would not be rewarded if it is used to create divisions and bitterness in our own cities, villages and mohallas.
And, of course, the Delhi vote means a rejection of a BJP-manufactured myth that Muslims are less committed than Hindus in matters of safeguarding our nation’s security and well-being. Shah led from the front in asking the voters in Delhi to put ‘them’ in their places. Instead, the Delhi electorate has put the pretentious home minister in his place.
The third myth, perhaps the most significant, that got thrashed in Delhi is the prime minister’s presumed communication gift. At the core the Narendra Modi raison d’être is the myth about his ability to make ‘new Indians’ see things his way. His leadership quotient has been vastly exaggerated on his vaunted ‘connect’ with the Indian masses.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has surprisingly taken to complaining publicly that the opposition was misleading the citizens on this new citizenship law. What a damning confession. So far his saffron cheerleaders and the media apologists were unanimous in proclaiming that there was only one leader, one voice and one message that the nation wanted to heed. The hired claque worked themselves hoarse asserting that the prime minister was the only ‘credible’ and ‘authentic’ voice of the nation; everyone else was to be legitimately dubbed as anti-national. We were made to believe that the country had ears only for Modi, that only he had the ‘connect’. The Delhi voters have busted that myth, too.
Interestingly enough, Arvind Kejriwal, rather cunningly, did not try to take on Modi directly. The AAP election catch-line ‘Delhi me toh Kejriwal (In Delhi it will be Kejriwal)’ deftly dodged the Modi challenge. It was the presumably canny Shah who pitched Modi against Kejriwal and against that pitiable man named Rahul Gandhi.
Sober analysis must seek an answer to this question: why did the BJP subject itself to this spectacle that has brought derision and ridicule to the ruling party? The simple answer is that the ruling establishment has bought its own spiel about its ‘achievements’ and its ‘sincerity’, ‘honesty’ and ‘commitment’.
One of the BJP slogans juxtaposed the Modi leadership and its ‘achievements’ against the 15 years of the Congress ‘loot’ and the five years of the AAP’s ‘jhoot (falsehoods)’. No one seemed to have bought the BJP argument that the AAP government was standing in the way of Delhi citizens enjoying unprecedented benevolence and blessings of a Modi arrangement. Quite needlessly, the BJP campaign pitched the prime minister’s credibility against Kejriwal’s habitual but charming unprincipledness.
The Delhi voters have done the nation a good turn by inflicting such a glorious humiliation on the BJP brass. Some kind of equilibrium has been restored in the national polity. The voters have told the Modi crowd to understand the limits of its Lok Sabha mandate, and have sent out a reminder to all other constitutional institutions of restraint to see to it that the government does not run amok. Amen.
Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi. He was, until recently, editor-in-chief of The Tribune.