Kejriwal's spectacular win has five lessons for Rajinikanth, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, and Lalu Yadav

Incumbent Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, center, is garlanded at Aam Aadmi Party, or "common man's" party headquarters as they celebrate the party's victory in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party was facing a stunning defeat by a regional party Tuesday in elections in the national capital that were seen as a referendum on Modi's policies such as a new national citizenship law that excludes Muslims.Photo/Manish Swarup)
  • First, it most people in India vote differently for state Assembly and Parliament elections.
  • Second, it is not a victory for those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.
  • Third, 'hate speeches' is not a cheat code that always garners more votes.
  • Fourth, Both BJP and Congress have relatively less traction in local elections.
  • Fifth, regional parties can beat the BJP if they don't fall for its traps.
If Aam Aadmi Party's victory in 2015 was historic, the one today has been no less impressive. Incumbent Chief Minsiter Arvind Kejriwal's party swept the national capital with its youthful charm and a carefully crafted campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led juggernaut, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Party2020 Seats2020 Vote share2019 seats2020 Vote share
AAP6253.63%6754.34%
BJP838.45%332.19%
Congress-4.27%09.65%
Others-3.6%03.82%

With three big state elections coming up in the next couple of years, the incumbent government in West Bengal under Trinamool Congress led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and those challenging BJP-supported governments in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, have lessons to take from Kejriwal's strategy ,as well as foes and potential friends actor-turning-politician Rajinikanth.

Incumbent Delhi Chief Minister and chief of Aam Aadmi Party, or "common man's" party Arvind Kejriwal, waves towards his supporters as he leaves after a visit to Hanuman temple following his party's victory in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Photo/Altaf Qadri)

In Bihar, where elections are due this year, the ruling government under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is a coalition between the BJP and the Janata Dal (United), and it will face-off with the alliance between Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, and the Congress.

In Tamil Nadu, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) under Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy is a BJP-ally and the challenger is the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) under the leadership of MK Stalin.

This victory for AAP not only gives Kejriwal a second full term as Chief Minister of the Union Territory but also offers lessons for political parties across the country.

First, it reinforces the fact that most people in India, and particularly in Delhi, vote differently for state Assembly and Parliament elections.

Just about eight months ago, the same people of Delhi voted overwhelmingly for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party and AAP could not get a single seat in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament. The comfort of those numbers may have played a role in BJP's strategy in the Delhi election. The saffron party was raking up national issues⁠— like illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries⁠— consistently but as the numbers show, it didn't yield the desired result.

Union minister and BJP MP Anurag Thakur addresses an election campaign ahead of the forthcoming Delhi Assembly elections, in New Delhi. Thakur on Monday egged on participants of an election rally to raise an incendiary slogan after he lashed out at anti-CAA protestors.Photo) (

For example, BJP’s Anil Kumar Bajpai has won the Gandhi Nagar constituency by a comfortable margin of over 5,000 votes. He won in 2015 too, but on behalf of AAP. Clearly, his aura at the local level clearly has more pull than the party he represents.

Second, it is not a victory for those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.

While finding faults with the BJP's strategy, it may be wrong to infer that the Delhi election verdict is in favour of those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the related National Register of Citizens (NRC), which, together, are feared as tools of discrimination against India's Muslims.

In this Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 photo, a Muslim man addresses a crowd of protesters inside a tent at the protest site in New Delhi's Shaheen Bagh area, India. The gathering at Shaheen Bagh started with a handful of women appalled by the violence at a nearby Muslim university during protests against the law on Dec. 15. Since then it has slowly morphed into a nationwide movement, with many women across the country staging their own sit-ins.Photo/Altaf Qadri)

If the vote has been cast on local issues, it would be wrong to draw inferences on national issues. There is enough anecdotal evidence that, there is still a lack of clarity among the masses on the intent and the potential impact of the CAA and the NRC.

And it is very likely that BJP⁠— with its resources and its hold over mass media⁠— will be able to sway public opinion in favour of the CAA and NRC; it would be a relatively easy task in a country where majority are Hindus, and there is rising public assertion of the identity against other minorities.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has already declared that the government will not rollback the CAA, in Lucknow.Photo/Nand Kumar) (

Third, 'hate speeches' is not a cheat code that always garners more votes.

Even while infering BJP still has enough currency to legitimise its move to bring the CAA, and follow it up with the NRC if it wants to, it has to be underscored that the persistent hate speeches against minorities, particularly the Muslims, are causing more fatigue than frenzy.

If the caustic rhetoric against Muslims were a vote gatherer, BJP would have had more seats as one of its Members of Parliament, Parvesh Verma, repeatedly spewed venom that had potential to cause incurable damage. BJP lost all ten state-level constituencies that come under the same Parliamentary segment that Verma represents in the Lok Sabha.

BJP's West Delhi MP Parvesh Verma (R) has been reprimanded by the election watchdog for drawing parallels between civilians protesting against the government and militants in Kashmir. Photo/Ravi Choudhary)(

Not just Verma, the regular rabble rousers of the BJP like Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (Twitter troll-turned-politician) and Kapil Mishra (who defected from AAP to join the BJP) also faced a resounding loss. Verbal violence makes for big headlines but not big results, not always.


Fourth, Both BJP and Congress have relatively less traction in local elections.

With this election, BJP has been kept out of power in the Delhi assembly for 22 straight years with five more to go before the next scheduled election. In the same time, there have been three BJP-led governments at the Central level including the 'Modi waves', that is into its second straight term. The last BJP Chief Minister in Delhi Assembly was the late Sahib Singh Verma, Parvesh Verma's father, between 1996 and 1998.

Even though the BJP failed to make a meaningful impact in the 2020 Delhi election, it at least has a rise in vote share to show.

Congress, on the other hand, is down to a little over 4% vote share in the national capital. Data from the last nine elections in Delhi, including those for the Parliament, the Assembly, as well as the civic body, has shown that the grand old party can be on the winning side but not the winner anymore.


Fifth, regional parties can beat the BJP if they don't fall for its traps.

One of the most politically astute things that Kejriwal did was to avoid the many traps laid by the BJP leaders many of whom are identified by the Hindu majoritarian, as opposed to a secular, ideology. Those opposing the party will find it difficult to outdo the BJP in a similar rhetoric.

While the assertion of the Hindu identity in politics has more resonance in 2020 than ever before, aping the BJP by appeasing the Hindu fundamentalists may not serve the entire purpose for its opponents. The voter may well go for the 'original' than the 'clone'.


Kejriwal's deft management of the Hindu fundamentalist sentiments, those who care more for the importance given to the religious identity over governance, policies, and performance, will be a good strategy to follow for the likes of Mamata Banerjee when she faces off with the likes of BJP's Dilip Ghosh known for his violent, anti-Muslim rhetoric.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, center, leads a protest against a new citizenship law in Kolkata India, Monday, Dec.16, 2019. She has already been more vocal about her dislike for CAA than Kejriwal ever was.Photo)

Finally, the lesson for BJP cadres

While Bengal has shown a penchant for violence, time and again, BJP's pro-Hindu image and rabble-rousing strategy is likely to have little resonance in places like Bihar and Tamil Nadu where local issues, nuances, and leaders are more prominent and the vote bank is divided between multiple parties.

So, just like in Delhi, emotive national issues for the assembly election in Bihar and Tamil Nadu may be useless.

In Bihar for instance, both the RJD and the BJP have similar voter shares— it changes from one election to another but moves in a range— and whoever Nitish Kumar's JD(U) sides with gets to form the government. As of now, the existing alliance is an advantage for BJP but Nitish Kumar is known to be agile in making new friends and dumping old ones.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi during the birth anniversary of former Bihar chief minister Jannayak Karpoori Thakur at Karpoori museum, in Patna.Photo)(

Whereas in Tamil Nadu, it has been a political duopoly between the DMK and the AIADMK, and their respective allies, for decades. However, a third force, an iconic actor Rajinikanth, is waiting to throw in his hat into the ring. A fourth influencer at best, another icon from the film industry, Kamal Haasan, who made his political debut in 2018, hasn't had any impact on the seats or vote share yet.

Rajinikanth has more in common with the BJP than with the other Tamil parties. But his approach, at least so far, has been to gently stroke the BJP supporters with his words, keeping them on his side, while not committing to the party or the ideology, even as a partially-discordant ally. His new party is expected to launch anytime soon and that may alter the field substantially.

Fans of actor Rajinikanth celebrate the release of his film Darbar in Mumbai."“If a situation arises wherein me and Kamal have to join hands for the welfare of people of Tamil Nadu, we will surely come together,” he recently said. Photo/Shashank Parade)(


So, the BJP's strategy has to be crafted on local issues with local leaders who have some pull among the voters.

After the drubbing in the Delhi election, the state unit chief Manoj Tiwari (another sensation from a regional film industry) had to take the blame. It is another matter that had BJP won, or even scored a respectable tally, the credit would have gone to party's most-famous election strategist, and the country's Home Minister, Amit Shah. This is not good for the morale of the party cadre especially in states where BJP is a non-starter.

This is also a point that BJP's potential allies like Rajinikanth will have in mind before they decide on taking sides.

SEE ALSO:
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