The residence of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was allegedly vandalised by BJP youth activists on Wednesday 30 March. The attack took place after activists of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, including Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya, landed up outside Kejriwal's residence to protest his remarks calling the recent movie The Kashmir Files as a "false film".
According to the police, the BJYM activists threw a box of paint at the wall of the Delhi CM's residence near Civil Lines.
After the incident, Delhi's deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia put out tweets accusing the BJP of trying to assassinate Kejriwal, who is also the national convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party.
In response, BJP leaders like MS Sirsa tweeted that the protest was the result of "popular anger" against Kejriwal following his remarks on the film.
In a speech that went viral, Kejriwal had recently spoken in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha against the BJP's efforts to promote The Kashmir Files and said that the filmakers were using the plight of Kashmiri Pandits to rake in crores of rupees.
The BJP has since been accusing Kejriwal of insulting Kashmiri Pandits.
It's not as if this is the first tussle between the BJP-ruled Centre and the AAP. But it is strange that the BJP would choose a film as the pretext to escalate matters with the AAP.
So, what is the politics behind this? BJP currently has two main approaches to counter AAP.
1. Attack on Kejriwal Aimed at Portraying Him as "Anti-Hindu"
There is a belief that getting into the 'Hindutva vs secularism' debate helps the BJP. While many opposition leaders avoid getting into it during elections, Kejriwal has taken this approach a step further – by permanently not getting into this debate irrespective of the electoral cycle.
This has set AAP apart from parties like Congress, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, or Rashtriya Janata Dal which may tactically avoid getting into the communal vs secular debate during elections but continue to emphasise on the latter at other times.
Due to this, the AAP has been a particularly slippery rival for the BJP.
It has also meant that while AAP has been weak at the Lok Sabha level in Delhi compared to the TMC or the SP in their respective states, or Congress in several states where it's up against the BJP, it has a much greater ability to eat into BJP's votes at the state level than the other parties.
The estimated swing from the BJP to AAP between the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Delhi's seven seats and the 2020 Delhi election is estimated to be 18 percent. This would probably not have been possible had AAP pitched itself as an ideological opponent to the BJP.
Now with AAP trying to expand nationally following its recent win in Punjab, the BJP wants to ensure that this growth isn't at its expense and rather it is at the expense of 'secular' parties like the Congress.
Therefore, the party is trying hard to project AAP as "anti-Hindu" and prevent it from capturing the imagination of loyal BJP voters.
There are two past precedents to this.
During the 2020 election campaign, the BJP launched a high-pitched campaign especially targeting areas in east and northeast Delhi. It was here that Union Home Minister Amit Shah urged voters to "press the EVM button in such a manner that the current can be felt in Shaheen Bagh".
The BJP consistently tried to associate AAP with the Shaheen Bagh protest during the election campaign.
Though the final results weren't in the BJP's favour, this high-pitched campaign and polarisation tactics helped the party in the east and northeast Delhi area.
In a number of seats like Ghonda, Karawal Nagar, Gokalpur, and Rohtas Nagar, the BJP's vote share increased by over 10 percentage points compared to the 2015 Assembly election.
As many as six out of eight seats won by the BJP in the Assembly elections happen to be from this region.
You can read more details on the impact of polarisation on voting patterns in our in-depth story from February 2020.
This was a clear sign for the BJP that it can manage to prevent loss of votes to AAP if elections become polarised.
Incidentally, northeast Delhi witnessed communal violence barely a few weeks after the elections, in which, as per official records, 53 people were killed – 36 Muslims, 15 Hindus, and 2 unidentified. During the violence and in its aftermath, AAP faced flak from Muslims for not doing enough against the violence and for allegedly being tardy in rehabilitation efforts. This eventually culminated in AAP's loss in a civic bypoll in Chauhan Bangar in northeast Delhi.
The other precedent is the 2017 MCD election. This took place barely 8 months after the 'surgical strike' following the Uri attack. Kejriwal was among the most vocal politicians asking the government for 'proof' of the strike.
BJP used this to accuse Kejriwal of being "against the armed forces".
2. MCD Unification an Attack on the Delhi Model
Though not directly related to the attack on Kejriwal's house, the Narendra Modi government's recent move to unify the three municipal corporations in Delhi is also aimed at politically countering AAP.
First, besides the unification, the Centre wants to reduce the number of wards in Delhi to 250, which means that there will have to be a delimitation exercise. Such an exercise would take at least a year and would lead to the postponement of the MCD elections due in May 2022.
Buoyed by its massive win in Punjab Assembly polls and a decent performance in the Chandigarh civic polls, AAP was fancying its chances of taking control of Delhi municipal corporations. But the postponement of the elections would no doubt affect AAP's momentum.
Unifying the three MCDs is also BJP's way of creating a parallel power structure in the national capital and preventing AAP from adding more elements to its "Delhi Model".
Despite ruling a partial state, the chief minister of Delhi still does have more power and prestige than the mayors of the three corporations – East, North, and South Delhi. But a single mayor and a single corporation could be better used to undermine the influence of the elected state government, especially if the parties are different.
The BJP's second line of attack on Kejriwal would be to squeeze the Delhi government's powers using the Centre and the MCD, and by presenting the Delhi CM as little more than a mayor.
The BJP's offensive on The Kashmir Files and the unification of MCD are part of the same process to counter AAP – first presenting it as "anti-Hindu" and second by targeting its Delhi Model.