In Delhi, Kejriwal Sets Odd Agenda, Flummoxes Rivals


As Delhi readies itself to elect a new assembly, the build-up to the big day – February 8 – serves up certain uniqueness. Seeking a repeat mandate, Arvind Kejriwal has devised a campaign strategy which is as innovative as it is impactful and as simple as it is apparently not. Singularly bereft of bluster and boisterousness and disarmingly distant from any confrontation, the strategy rides entirely on a narrative of good vibes. This has to be a first in the country where election campaigns invariably delve into nastiness and gladiatorial blood-letting.

When did you last hear a political party making education its primary campaign talking point? Well, forget last. There never was one. When Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party appeals to voters to judge it by its accomplishment in the area of education, it is certainly a fresh and refreshing offering in electoral politics. Parties, accustomed to reducing poll strategies to sop-fests and treating the voter as bribe-seekers, generally undervalue education as a vote-catcher. It is too dull and unexciting a subject to be broached at rallies or during direct interaction with ordinary masses. The AAP has upended this calcified belief through sustained focus on the subject. And people appear interested.

The same goes for health. It is not often one hears of healthcare as a campaign issue. If at all, it is invariably a minor matter, more about adding numbers to the items on the manifesto than actual intent. Grandiose health schemes and platitudes on public health keep surfacing in election rallies but hardly with any sense of urgency. The AAP has made it a talking point too. Mohalla clinics may not have taken off as it would have expected but the party certainly sees it as a potent electoral plank, simply because it has put its mind to a subject that is close to an everyday need of the masses with some sincerity.

It requires high degree of confidence to solicit votes on planks that can be open to subjective opinion. Claims of performances on education and health render themselves to harsh scrutiny and the result of such scrutiny may prove disastrous to the party making the claims. That is one reason why political parties steer clear of such subjects. Kejriwal’s party has taken the challenge head on in a clean departure from this approach. A positive result in the election for it would be testimony to the efficacy of the approach.

Add to all this the deliberate move from the party to stay steadfastly detached from the controversies of the day and build its image as a political outfit dedicated solely to the cause of Delhi and its citizens. Thus one hears no remarks from the generally voluble Kejriwal on the ongoing protests over CAA and NRC. On Shaheen Bagh and the JNU fracas earlier, his silence is more conscious than his words. He has stopped his acidic tweets on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his party too refrains from engaging the usually combative BJP on the many accusations it throws up.

As a tactical move it appears brilliant. It not only denies the rivals a handle to corner him but also makes them look silly and out of touch with ground reality. While the main rival BJP continues to be shrill and divisive, raking up issues that hardly touch lives of people, the AAP has managed to nullfy the sting with its disarming mass-centric approach focussed on hearths and homes. Personified, the AAP would be the genial, affable neighbourhood problem- solver. The BJP on the other hand would be the bristling, grumpy, cynical ready-to-trade blows uncle next door. The Congress, which does not look to be a serious challenger, would at best be a softer version of the latter albeit much more confused.

Call it the art of disengagement. This election, the AAP has not let the BJP set the agenda simply by ignoring the latter. It has refused to walk into potential traps such as Shaheen Bagh and JNU and it has taken direct combat out of the equation. It has set its own agenda and steered the entire poll conversation into that.

It is risky as poll strategy but Kejriwal is willing to take the risk. And for the first time, the activist-politician looks to have discovered his comfort zone as both activist and politician.

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