Why AAP is Going Soft on Modi & Keeping Focus on Arvind Kejriwal
According to Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey, nearly one in four BJP voters in LS said they will vote for AAP in Delhi
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party appears to be recalibrating their strategy on attacking the Narendra Modi government. AAP supported the government’s move against Article 370 and recently Kejriwal assured the Modi government of “support” in its efforts towards tackling India’s economic slowdown.
This coincides with the AAP stepping up its publicity campaign across Delhi centred around Kejriwal as well as its announcement of lower tariffs for water and electricity. It has also launched a massive anti-dengue campaign.
In the run-up to the Assembly elections next year, AAP’s attempt seems to be to set the narrative and not to get caught in a ‘Modi-centric’ campaign that would suit the BJP.
Modi for PM, Kejriwal for CM
The other reason that AAP doesn’t want to be seen as overly anti-Modi is that many Delhi voters who voted for PM Modi at the Centre are said to be open to backing Kejriwal at the state level.
According to the Lokniti-CSDS post poll survey conducted after the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, 24 percent people who voted for BJP said they may switch to AAP at the Assembly level.
This is not surprising as voters in Delhi have often voted for strong leadership rather than party loyalties. For instance in the 1998 Assembly polls, Delhi voted out the BJP and supported the Congress under Sheila Dikshit but a year later it gave Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP seven out of seven seats in the Lok Sabha elections.
The same thing happened in 2014, when BJP won all seven Lok Sabha seats in what was called a Modi wave but barely eight months later, Arvind Kejriwal stormed into power winning 67 out of 70 Assembly seats.
As things stand today, Kejriwal is the tallest leader in Delhi, especially after the demise of three-time Congress CM Sheila Dikshit in July this year. It is therefore not surprising that AAP has launched a Kejriwal-centric campaign and has also begun taunting the BJP to declare a CM candidate.
Not Repeating Surgical Strike Mistake
However, AAP leaders privately concede that PM Modi’s popularity is at a high in Delhi, especially after his government’s decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
“People in Delhi are very happy with the move. This is the feedback we have received. Therefore opposing it would have backfired on us. We didn’t want to make the same mistake that we made after the surgical strikes,” an AAP functionary told The Quint.
After the surgical strikes in 2016, CM Arvind Kejriwal had asked PM Modi to provide proof to “silence those who had been questioning the government”. Many AAP supporters say that this harmed the party in the 2017 MCD elections, in which the BJP made national security an issue.
This time, AAP is careful not to be seen as on the backfoot on the nationalism issue. It has also recently launched the deshbhakti curriculum in Delhi.
Interestingly, AAP is also not playing up the economic crisis as a major issue, as it is perceived to be something that can work to the Congress’ advantage.
“We want the Delhi elections to be fought on Delhi-centric issues, not national issues. This will give us the chance to showcase the government’s work, without getting caught into tu-tu main-main of the BJP and the Congress,” an AAP MLA said.
Similar to BJP voters, 25 percent Congress voters also said that they could vote for AAP in the Assembly elections. Many of these might be Muslims as the community is said to have shifted to Congress en bloc as the party was seen as the main national challenger to the BJP.
According to the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey, 66 percent Muslims voted for the Congress against 28 percent who voted for AAP. But this might change in the Assembly elections, with many Muslims likely to return to AAP.
The party has also been careful to not anger the community. For instance, the party voted against the government on the Triple Talaq Bill as well as the UAPA Amendment Bill, both of which were being opposed by sections within the Muslim community.
Winning Over BJP Voters
AAP seems confident of winning back Muslim votes but it is concerned that the number of BJP voters shifting to the party may reduce after the Article 370 move.
Without a sizeable shift of BJP voters, it would be nearly impossible for AAP to come back to power in Delhi.
In the 2015 Assembly elections, many of those who voted for the BJP and the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections shifted to the AAP, giving the party 67 out of 70 seats in the state. AAP’s vote share increased by 21.4 percent. BJP’s reduced by 14.1 percent and the Congress’ by 5.4 percent compared to the Lok Sabha polls.
However, in the 2017 MCD elections, AAP’s vote share was down to less than half, at 26.2 percent. The gains went to the BJP and to a greater extent, the Congress, whose vote share increased to over 21 percent.
AAP would need to not just eat into to the BJP’s votes, but also ensure that it doesn’t further lose ground to the Congress. A nearly two-way battle with the BJP is the AAP’s best chance of coming back to power in Delhi.
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