If the BJP’s aggressive, high decibel campaign for the February 8 Delhi polls, with its obsession with Shaheen Bagh, was aimed at harnessing people’s frustration at traffic jams created by the protest, it worked.
But if it was meant to consolidate votes in favour of the party candidates, the election pitch — which seeks to pit Prime Minister Narendra Modi against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal — might not yield the desired results.
Modi’s popularity and acceptance in the city are intact, despite the malaise in the economy and criticism over the Centre’s failure to tackle joblessness. Voters laud the Prime Minister for “bold steps” he has taken — from Article 370 to Ram Mandir — but are quick to add that local issues are a bigger concern than national ones when it comes to choosing a government for the state.
“Modi ji is at the Centre; we re-elected him with more votes to protect the country. But we have to choose Arvind Kejriwal for the work he has done for Delhi,” Amit Kumar De, a resident of Tughlakabad, said. Parvinder Verma, a committed BJP voter, agreed: “When it comes to the nation, it’s Modi ji. But this is a state election. Even if we vote for the BJP, Modi ji cannot be the Chief Minister of Delhi.”
While De, a factory worker, was fulsome in his praise for facilities Kejriwal’s AAP government had introduced in government schools, which he feels have put them on a par with private schools in the neighbourhood, Joginder, a young driver, appreciated the way the local AAP MLA, Sahi Ram Pehalwan, was “available always to his voters”.
This kind of a response from the ground could have prompted the BJP — which sees an election victory as a stamp of approval for initiatives it has taken since coming to power at the Centre last year — to focus its campaign around Shaheen Bagh. Typically a party that effectively highlights the failures of the incumbent government, the BJP seems to have realised that poking holes in AAP’s governance is not resonating with voters. This could explain why top leaders, right from Prime Minister Modi to Home Minister Amit Shah, have mentioned Shaheen Bagh in their election speeches.
Votes apart, criticism of Shaheen Bagh appears to have many takers. De, Verma, Azad Kumar, also a cab driver, and almost everyone assembled near a tea stall in Tekhchand village spoke disapprovingly of the anti-CAA protest there. For them, the protest is unnecessary, and the protesters a menace. Some also bought into the BJP’s claims that the protest had been organised by the AAP.
“Had Shaheen Bagh not been there, it would have been even better for Kejriwal,” said De. Asked Azad: “Would you appreciate some people sitting on dharna in front of your house, blocking people coming to your house?”
Villagers said the protest, which has crossed 50 days, has adversely affected their life, income and peace of mind. “Wo bolte hain shanti se protest kar rahe hein, lekin ashanti faila rakha hein,” said Sachidanand, who drives a van. Azad said authorities ought to deal with them harshly. “We should have a CM like a Yogi ji (Adityanath). Only then will it be controlled.”
Delhi Assembly election: From CAA to Shaheen Bagh, BJP hopes to gain with harder faultlines
Amit Kumar, a doctor, said Shaheen Bagh has changed the campaign, and added that the government should have held discussions with the women sitting on protest.
In conversation after conversation, it is evident that protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act have deepened fault lines across the city. “Modi ji ne achcha kiya, inhe bhagaana hai, saara danga ye log karte hain,” Aneesha, who lives in a colony near Bhagwan Valmiki Mandir in New Delhi constituency, said. In South Delhi’s Mehrauli, Vivek, who runs an eatery, said: “What’s wrong in asking Muslims to get their citizenship certificates? There are so many troubles because of them.”
The BJP campaign has also tried to portray the polls as a battle between “desh bhakt” and “desh drohi.” As a small crowd waits for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s rally in Mehrauli’s Kusum Khatri, speaker after speaker reminds the voters: “The choice is between forces of anarchy and patriots”; “this election is an opportunity for you to support those who protect the nation”; “it’s your time to defeat the separatist government in Delhi”.
Despite the polarising campaign, work on the ground remains the key factor. At Gole Market in New Delhi constituency, where Kejriwal is facing Congress’s Romesh Sabharwal and BJP’s Sunil Yadav, voters said the polls are going to be only on the basis of “work” that has happened in the last five years. For those who live in the colony near Valmiki Mandir on Mandir Marg, the fight is between the AAP and the Congress, whose Sheila Dikshit, a three-time chief minister, held the seat for a while.
“What did Modi ji do for us? We safai karmcharis will vote for those who worked for us. Kejriwal has done a lot — he gave us good schools, clinics and built sewer lines. He has taken care of the poor. There are more things to do for which he has to return to power,” said Kishan.
“Kejriwal is an aam aadmi. His daughter works in Gurgaon and goes by bus, I am told. He has reduced our power bills to almost nothing. For the first time, someone has cared for the poor,” Kiran, another cleaner, said.
But Mahinder Kumar Tank did not agree: “Kejriwal used our broomstick as his symbol, but he hasn’t done enough. So the entire NDMC cleaning staff will stand with the Congress.”
Both Kiran and Tank rejected the BJP’s “communal politics”. “I respect Modi for scrapping Article 370 and paving the way for a Ram Temple. But the party is only interested in dividing people on communal lines,” Tank said.
Just two houses away, Mayadevi expressed anger with the BJP for “not creating jobs for the youth”. “And the Prime Minister is not even bothered about rising prices,” she said.
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