With no media and no money, how Kejriwal had pulled off historic mandate a year ago

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Rifat Jawaid

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(As AAP completes one year in government, we are reproducing the article written by jantakareporter.com’s editor-in-chief, Rifat Jawaid, on how Arvind Kejriwal had regrouped his army to pull off the historic mandate in Delhi assembly election. )

Aam Aadmi Party led by its charismatic leader Arvind Kejriwal did what no leader could ever do in the history of Delhi’s electoral politics. The party won historic mandate by securing 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi thereby ensuring a complete annihilation of both Congress and the BJP.

BJP winning just three seats assumed extra significance given the party had pumped in all it resources in this election. This included non-stop campaigns by 100 plus MPs and nearly two dozens of cabinet ministers and crores of rupees on TV, radio and print ads. The stakes were so high that the party didn’t even mind ‘violating’ EC guidelines by placing full page ads in the newspapers even after the campaigns had officially ended.

The BJP fought this elections on Modi’s name thinking they would be able to replicate the successes of Lok Sabha polls and the subsequent assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana.

This is precisely what makes AAP’s victory even more sweeter for its supporters.

Only 8 months before theit Delhi win, AAP’s electoral fortunes had crashed as rapidly as its rise in December 2013. Of the 400+ Loksabha seats it contested, the party had suffered humiliating defeats in all bar four constituencies. AAP’s inability to win a single seat in what was considered to be its stronghold-Delhi-was even more demoralising. First out of power in Delhi following Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to quit in February 2014 and now a crushing defeat in LS polls, AAP looked destined to go into political wilderness.

Even before Arvind Kejriwal could make sense of what had gone so horribly wrong to the party, political pundits began to write obituaries for him and his party.

I still remember the look of a visibly dejected Kejriwal when I met him at his Tughlak Lane residence just after the LS elections results were out. I asked him, “What now?”

While sipping his ‘adrak (ginger) tea, he replied, “I haven’t thought about my next course of action, but, I’m not too worried about AAP’s future. Inhe (commentators) likhne dijiye. We may have suffered a colossal defeat, but we will bounce back.”

I was taken aback by what he said next, ” main ghar ghar jaaonga aur logon se haath jod kar maafi mangoonga ( I will go to every house and ask for forgiveness with folded hands). I will ask them to give me one more chance in Delhi.”

The reason why I was taken aback by his decision to publically own his mistakes was only because this sounded like a very radical and bold move and there was no precedence of any Indian politician ever taking similar steps in the past.

It was a courageous move also because ‘sorry’ is often one of the most difficult words to utter if you happen to be in public limelight.

Political history is replete with leaders who have refused to apologise for their mistakes. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was one such politician. Accused of misleading the country to attack Iraq in 2003, he has refused to express any remorse for what was clearly an unjustified war based on a sexed-up dossier which said that Britain was only 45-minutes away from being attacked with chemical weapons by Saddam Hussain. This war, as we all know, caused unimaginable destruction of innocent lives and country’s infrastructure.

And not to forget our own PM, who people of Gujarat (read minorities) are still hoping may one day say ‘sorry’ for the religious pogroms of 2002.

Coming back to Kejriwal, it appears Delhi has indeed accepted Kejriwal’s apology and decided to give AAP a mandate he always wanted. And this may surely encourage other politicians to take a leaf out of Kejriwal’s book in future. Without a shadow of doubt, it will be a refreshing change in Indian politics if they indeed do so.

If Kejriwal was media’s darling in the period leading to Delhi elections in 2013, TV cameras began to move away from him post LS polls. Media’s spotlight came on him and AAP only when there were something adverse to report about them. Such was media’s hostility that when Kejriwal held his first public rally since LS elections in Jantar Mantar on August 3 last year, not a single news channel (except a couple of small Hindi channels) deemed it good enough to cut live to his speech made before thousands of volunteers. Even firstpost, a platform perceived to be anti-AAP because of it being a part of network18 media owned by Reliance, concluded that ‘Kejriwal hasn’t lost his touch- Jantar Mantar rally draws massive crowds.’

One leading Hindi news channel ran an online poll asking users to rate how much they hated the AAP leader.

Others derived news value from discussing the merits of Kejriwal’s trip to Dubai on a business class ticket.

Kejriwal used the lack of favourable media’s spotlight to his advantage by focussing on building the organisation and improving direct engagements with Delhi voters. The early reactions may not have been what he originally desired, but his decision to persist with his apology soon began to chime with the people.

Because mainstream media didn’t give a ‘toss’ to any newsworthy AAP activities or what its chief had to say, the party shifted its focus to social media platforms, where it had already established some kind of supremacy. Ankit Lal, the head of AAP social media, says “the logic was simple; if you can make enough noise about the right thing on social media, it will be difficult for MSM to ignore them.”

This strategy worked as AAP successfully managed to trend desired topics on twitter almost with regularity. Such was their prowess on social media that it could even change criticism or mocking by the rival political party to its advantage. The success of #mufflerman and #IFundHonestPolitics were two such examples. #mufflerman remained a top trend in India for almost 12 days.

Far from being ashamed about Kejriwal’s muffler, the volunteers began to flaunt it. Mufflerman merchandise became a collector’s item for AAP volunteers up and down the country.

A song titled 5SaalKejriwal composed by Bollywood music composer and a vocal AAP supporter Vishal Dadlani went viral. AAP volunteers were encouraged to make 5saalKejriwal as their mobile ringtones.

If BJP trolls gave grief to Modi bashers during the LS polls, journalists critical of Kejriwal feared verbal onslaught from AAP supporters on social media. Suddenly there was a complete role reversal.

Aside from establishing dominance on social media, the AAP also developed innovative ways to check the pulse of the average Delhiites and reach out to undecided voters. One such exercise was sending teams to travel with the metro (underground train) commuters. Masquerading as innocent passengers, these volunteers would board the train at different stations and engage the travelling public into political discussions. Different members played different roles (some praised Modi, others Kejriwal with actors pretending to praise the PM finally agreeing with those who supported the AAP chief).

Delhi Dialogues was another clever initiative. Reportedly a brainchild of Ashish Khaitan, through Delhi Dialogues initiative the party identified core issues faced by Delhiites and began addressing their concerns with a well structured door-to-door campaign. Says a source, ” We started this campaign in early September and dedicated one week to every issue and were able to cover a sizeable population after the end of seven weeks.”

Another impressive aspect of their strategy appeared to have been the performance of their spokespersons while taking part in TV debates. Ashish Khaitan, Raghav Chadha and Rahul Mehra aggressively put forward the party lines in TV debates, while articulate and soft-spoken Atishi Marlena and Yogendra Yadav earned plaudits for keeping their sanity even while facing hostile panelists and news anchors.

I’m told that the AAP’s media team led by Yadav regularly held their morning conference call, where amongst other things they discussed the potentially developing stories of the day and how they intended to tackle them both on MSM and social media platforms. Quite a revolutionary step by a relatively young political party.

Lots of AAP supporters say Kumar Vishwas joining the campaign just before BJP announced Kiran Bedi’s name as BJP’s CM candidate was the icing on the cake. An AAP insider said, “no one could demolish Kiran Bedi (Vishwas’s former IAC colleague) and other defectors such as Vinod Binny and Shazia Ilmi better than him. In one of the gatherings in Patpatganj, the way way he used the analogy of Vibhishan (Ravan’s brother who had sided with Lord Ram) and how despite his help in the killing of Ravan, no parent in India would be proud of naming their kids after Vibhishan. Only Vishwas could have come up with this argument.’

While Shanti Bhushan may have attacked Kejriwal for his style of leadership, many AAP leaders appear to be in awe of his hands on leadership in rejuvenating the otherwise low morale of AAP workers

Sources say that it was AAP chief’s idea to rattle the BJP by projecting one of their weakest leaders Jagdish Mukhi against himself for the CM’s race.

He said, “this was a master stroke. The whole purpose was to trap the BJP. As expected this caused internal rumblings amongst the chief ministerial hopefuls within the BJP forcing Amit Shah to announce Kiran Bedi as their CM candidate.”

AAP was also way ahead in its preparation for the elections before the dates were announced with the party releasing its first list of candidates as far back as mid November.

Then there was help that AAP received from the BJP and PM Modi, who went ballistic by resorting to personal attacks against Kejriwal from his very first rally in Ramleela Ground on January 10. Kejriwal rightly avoided attacking back at the PM thereby not making it look like Modi vs Kejriwal fight. This made BJP and Modi look really bad in the eyes of Delhi voters who began to appreciate Kejriwal’s ‘positive politics’ even more.

I visited quite a lot of Delhi constituencies during the campaign. I was astonished to see the swelling support for Arvind Kejriwal particularly amongst Muslims and low income groups. Even those who didn’t agree with his policies conceded he was an honest leader. This incredible polarisation amongst Muslims prompted me to conclude that the minorities were going to vote for Kejriwal and the candidates were literally insignificant.

Such polarisation amongst Muslims reminded me of Indian politics of late 80s when Muslims had deserted Congress party in favour of a man called VP Singh. But unlike 89, Muslims support for Kejriwal and AAP in Delhi were more for a clean politics than along any religious lines. A lot of traditional Congress supporters in Okhla, MatiaMahal, Ballimaran, Trilokpuri and Chandni Chowk told me that whilst they still liked Congress, they were going to vote for AAP to ensure their votes were not divided.

Following this unprecedented support for AAP among Muslims, I could foresee a total annihilation of Congress party from Delhi more than a week before the elections. My tweeton January 30 was the result of this observation.

And if this trend of tactical voting by minorities and consolidation of low income group voters against BJP are replicated in future elections elsewhere in the country, dare I say that there will be some bad news for political parties, known for promoting the politics of hate to extract the desired electoral mileage.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Yes Sandip & Giri. AK & lots of his followers from all religions, from all classes – rich & poor, illeterate & highly educated – they are fed up with current political and governance system which holds back India from it’s potential of quickly becoming one of world’s happiest & prosperous countries. I’ve participated in many rallies and meetings – it’s inspiring to see such people. Am sure that we are all part of the effort to improve our country and we should all support AAP  through thick and thin. It’s new to the intricacies & complexities of politics in India – we must stand by it even if it falls or fails few time – it’s learning fast !

  2. excellent narrative.. Arvind kejriwal and team highly educated, honest and hardworking. Pity Yogendra yadav and Bhushan had to go out.

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