Kejriwal Vs Shah: Is BJP Giving AAP a Walkover in Delhi?

The BJP has added an unexpected twist to the battle for Delhi by fielding Amit Shah as its chief campaigner.

Updated29 Jan 2020, 12:07 PM IST
Opinion
5 min read

The BJP has added an unexpected twist to the battle for Delhi by fielding Union Home Minister Amit Shah as its chief campaigner. Delhi voters were looking forward to another round of a Narendra Modi versus Arvind Kejriwal clash, especially after the former trounced the latter so comprehensively in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Instead, it’s turned into a Shah-Kejriwal face-off with the home minister campaigning like a prospective chief minister and picking arguments with the AAP leader on micro issues like CCTV cameras, public WIFI hotspots, free mobile charging, the number of buses plying on Delhi roads, etc.

“Does it behove the home minister of the country?” Kejriwal asked scathingly in a video recorded point-by-point rebuttal.
Snapshot
  • Amit Shah doesn’t have a popular profile with Delhi residents
  • Delhi election is a battle for control between Centre and Local
  • By taking a back seat and leaving the campaign to Shah, Modi seems to be acknowledging that Delhi is a lost cause for the BJP.

The shift in the BJP’s strategy is evident in the way Shah is buzzing around the city, addressing a minimum of two rallies every day, doing the occasional padyatra and even dropping in for lunch at a party worker’s residence for an informal interaction. He hit the road a day after nominations closed and hasn’t stopped.

Does Shah Have Credentials to Be a ‘Vote Catcher’?

The decision to get Shah to do the heavy lifting in Delhi instead of Modi has raised eyebrows and questions too. After all, does he really have the credentials to be a vote catcher for the BJP in the capital?

Shah doesn’t have popular profile with Delhi residents, who know him only through television and social media, first as the BJP president and now as the home minister. 

This is in sharp contrast to Modi who has dominated the political landscape since 2014 and remains, even today, a star attraction and crowd-puller.

In fact, if anything, Shah carries the burden of being seen as the face of the Delhi Police. As home minister, he oversees law and order in Delhi and is regarded as a super Police Commissioner.

Is BJP Repeating Its 2015 Mistake?

It’s an unfortunate association these days because of the bad name Delhi Police have earned in recent weeks, first by overreacting in Jamia Milia University and beating up innocent students studying in the library and then by not reacting at all when a gang of masked thugs went on a rampage in JNU and beat up students and professors.

Even the bhakts have found it difficult to defend Delhi Police in these circumstances.

Voters in Delhi are wondering if the BJP is repeating its 2015 mistake again five years later. 

Modi was suppose to lead the last Assembly election in the Capital till the BJP got feedback through surveys and ground reports that AAP was poised to win.

The mood clearly was “Upar Modi, neeche Kejriwal.” In other words, Modi at the Centre and Kejriwal in the state.

The party hastily switched gears and pushed Kiran Bedi in as its chief minister candidate. It was a last minute decision and a disastrous one. She not only antagonised BJP workers everywhere she went, she put off voters as well with her domineering ways and absence of political savvy.

BJP circles believe that Kiran Bedi was one of the major causes of the party’s near total collapse in a city which used to be its citadel once upon a time. 

The BJP won just three of Delhi’s 70 seats while AAP swept to a stupendous majority with 67 seats.

Of course, unlike Bedi, Shah is certainly not the BJP’s official chief minister candidate. But just as he is Delhi’s super cop by virtue of being Union home minister, he is Delhi’s super chief minister too for the same reason.

Battle for Control Between Local and Centre

Delhi is not a full-fledged state and key subjects like public order, land, police and services fall under the purview of the central government, that is, the home ministry.

While Kejriwal has fought hard for clarity on the division of powers between the state and the centre, the chief minister of the BJP government will more likely than not be a puppet of the home ministry. In other words, Shah will be running Delhi.

In some ways, it is befitting then that Shah should take on Kejriwal in a direct fight. It is a battle for control between local and centre.

Yet, by taking a back seat and leaving the campaign to Shah, Modi seems to be acknowledging that Delhi is a lost cause for the BJP.

In 2015, he addressed four rallies in the capital. So far, he has held only one public meeting, that too long before the dates were announced for Delhi. His rally happened soon after the Jharkhand Assembly polls which the BJP lost badly.

He may address another but there is no confirmation of whether he is willing to go out on a limb and risk his image for Delhi.

Now the questions arises. Has the BJP inadvertently given Kejriwal and his AAP a walkover in Delhi? Will Shah be the fall guy, like Kiran Bedi was in 2015, and take the rap for his party’s loss to spare Modi?

Shah is certainly on the back foot as Kejriwal responds to each salvo with sharp stiletto thrusts. Which is why his campaign has taken a shrill communal turn. The anti CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh has become his main plank and BJP campaigners are upping the ante with wild exhortations to “shoot traitors” and other polarising slogans.

With Kejriwal determinedly abounding the communal trap and staying focused on his development pitch, Shah and the BJP are likely to get shrilled as polling day nears.

AAP circles are bemused by the BJP’s strategy. At the start of the election, AAP’s assessment was that it would win around 60 seats because of the Kejriwal government’s good governance record and poor candidate selection by the BJP.

After Shah jumped in with a campaign that’s a confused mélange of national, local and polarizing issues.

AAP workers joke that their tally has gone up to between 65 and 70! No surprises, there’s no mention of the Congress in this Shah-Kejriwal binary.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 28 Jan 2020, 04:35 PM IST
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