SEEMA MUSTAFA | 11 FEBRUARY, 2020
Votes are still be counted but at the time of writing this - 11.45 a.m.--Aam Aadmi Party is far ahead in the trends with 58 seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party at 12 seats and still hoping that the confidence being exuded by its top leadership after the polling will somehow be realised. And that the party will win, as some of its worthies are still claiming to the cameras, or at least close the gap substantially to make life difficult for AAP and Arvind Kejriwal.
The cover photograph on this article, titled Muffler Man, was tweeted by AAP’s young social media team just now. With humour and the good will that AAP has managed to hold despite the virulent and very ugly campaign by the BJP for the Delhi Assembly elections. Virulent hate was spewed across the streets with a top leaders call for “Goli maron salon ko…” followed almost immediately by lone gunmen firing at protestors on at least three different occasions; and by nasty mobs gathering outside Shaheen Bagh with the same chants and hate filled slogans.
The BJP pulled out all the possible plugs to launch a nasty campaign for Delhi, seeking to polarise the constituents, and hurling venom at women protestors on the basis of religious identity. That this did not make anyone back off is another story, in fact it had more and more people and intellectuals and students and academics and professionals coming out to support those in protest. As an older lady said at a cafe in a posh South Delhi market, “I do not care for politics but the images of the students being beaten (she was referring to the earlier assaults on JNU and Jamia students) has come into every middle class home, How can we accept that?”
Indeed how? Arvind Kejriwal kept the focus, despite the provocation, on the work done by his government in Delhi. A good strategy that seems to have paid off very well for the Muffler Man. The fact that his government has worked on the ground in the social sector that all political rulers ignore, is a well accepted fact on Delhi’s streets. Education, Health are two important sectors where he has made a huge difference for the poor man and the middle class along with what critics call freebies but what are basically welfare measures for the poor in transport, electricity and water to name a few. People voted for him because his legislators remained by and large accessible, and because the work done made a difference to their daily lives.
He did not need to spew venom like the BJP, as he let his work talk for him. He did not need to get into the Shaheen Bagh debate, as even if he did not stand on the rooftops supporting the protest he did not join the cacophony for their removal. And those who know the nature of the AAP organisation as it has evolved over the years, with several dubious individuals having parted ways, know that Kejriwal, his Man Friday Sisodia and others are definitely not supportive of hate politics or religious polarisation. In fact, he has said so at many events but then the media does not always like to report kosher news.
Kejriwal’s victory is big. Not small. And the anchors crowing over the fact that he has not got 67 seats as in the last polls sound a little ridiculous, perhaps even to themselves. This is heading to be a big victory -- pitted as he was against the full might of the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah who almost seemed to have made it a personal issue. At least his speeches so indicated, especially when he urged voters to press the EVM button so hard that the current was felt by the protestors in Shaheen Bagh. And BJP leader after leader promised that they would clear Shaheen Bagh of the women within half an hour of being declared victorious.
Delhi has been able to stay these promises, and in the vote make it clear that the voters want peace and stability, and development and progress. Kejriwal by resisting the pressure to become controversial --- despite that he was called a terrorist----did not play into BJP hands and kept his and his party’s head well above the murky, dirty waters. This has worked for him, and the people have reposed full trust in him despite all the odds that were created, and the impediments that were thrown in his way.
The Muffler Man has moved far beyond that epitaph, attached to him by both the BJP and the Congress party who see in him a threat to their own existence. The Congress tried to overcome this dislike somewhat by fighting a non-battle these elections but the jury is out on whether this was ‘strategy’ as many of them would like us to believe, or sheer incompetence as the party is becoming increasingly famous for. Kejriwal fought a good, hard, feet-on-the-ground campaign through the dark days created by the BJP. His candidates did not indulge in brick bats and showed a forbearance that prevented the BJP from capitalising on the RSS driven last hours “surge” of voters that its members believed had taken place!
With Muffler Man triumphant, perhaps the BJP will rein in its cadres at least for a while, and allow the national capital to breathe. And the students who have been repeatedly assaulted ---Jamia, JNU, Gargi, Jamia….be given the space for dissent and protest that is their right. Muffler Man could create his own history with an embrace and an appeal that could go a long way in healing wounds, and clearing spaces.