Voting for the Delhi Assembly elections is over and the usual impatient wait for results is on. Counting will take place on February 11. Exit poll unanimously predict a decisive victory for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. This is a big relief for many in not only Delhi, but across the country because the campaigning saw BJP carry out one of the most incendiary and divisive campaigns ever in the history of Indian elections. Led by Amit Shah, the home minister and right hand man of PM Modi, BJP tried to create an atmosphere of fear, hate and worry to counter the apparent extensive support to AAP. So, firecrackers were being spontaneously burst in several localities after TV channels announced the exit polls. But, one has to wait for the official count for two more days.
Although the BJP appears to have been given a resounding defeat, their campaign has done severe damage to the society of this teeming metropolis with over 2 crore population. This was completely unnecessary and opportunistic. But BJP’s greed for power is now so unbridled and its ambition so audacious that it deliberately invoked the most dangerous mantras to befuddle the people and create hatred where none existed, at least not in any significant form.
Recall the BJP Campaign ….
In the initial days, the election strategy was framed around certain select ‘achievements’ of the Modi government in the past few years. Specifically: abrogation of Article 370 which ended the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, and its downgrading to two Union Territories; the ‘resolution’ of Ayodhya dispute (actually ordered by the Supreme Court, but who cares!) and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which discriminates against Muslim citizenship seekers.
The selection itself was revealing. It was an appeal to the Hindu majority because these measures were centrepieces of a Hindu vision articulated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, mentor of Modi, Shah, et al.
However, this generic appeal very rapidly degenerated into crass communal propaganda led by none other than Amit Shah. Within days, BJP leaders were leading slogans that urged shooting of traitors, implied to be Muslims. Another local MP went further and said that those (mainly Muslims) protesting at Shaheen Bagh will “ultimately invade ‘your’ houses and “rape your daughters”. A phalanx of leaders openly decried the protests at Shaheen Bagh, some calling it a den of traitors and others branding it as schools for suicide bombers. In Parliament, one MP warned that ‘Mughal Raj’ was on the horizon, unless ‘we’ are all vigilant. Some Modiji’s sewak (Modi’s follower) opened fire at Shaheen Bagh.
These are well known and well documented facts. On the ground, the BJP/RSS cadres were several steps ahead. They apparently campaigned relentlessly about the so called attempts to create mini-Pakistans in India. They spread the usual canards about Hindu population being overtaken, about ‘love jihad’, about Muslims’ foreign allegiance, about cow slaughter and so on – this is what numerous people in Delhi alleged when asked. Shaheen Bagh became a symbol of all this, compressing all the myths and lies into one. Actually, it was quite the opposite, with people from all faiths demanding upholding of the Indian Constitution – but BJP doesn’t care.
….And See Its Effect
In a metropolis where Muslims make up just 13% of the population, it is unthinkable to imagine all this. Even for the whole country, it is unthinkable. But then, such fear mongering has been carried out continuously by the BJP and RSS for years, and with special vigour under the benign protection of Modi Sarkar for the past six months. It has led to impunity as far as voicing such allegations are concerned. It has even led to impunity for lynchings and attacks on religious places. It has been done semi-secretively in many election campaigns. But in Delhi, it reached its zenith.
As a result, a new sense of worry and fear has raised its head among some sections of the people here. Are there going to be riots and violence? Are there going to be protests and street violence? All the fears of a big city get conveniently focused on and merged into this single point. Hatred borne out of fear and distance rises, ignoring the daily lived reality of harmony and friendship.
Has this translated into an electoral expression? It is doubtful, and the exit polls confirm this. It may have consolidated some sections of people behind the aggressive Hindutva banner – those who were already inclined towards such thinking, or those who need a reason to support the BJP when confused. In Delhi, the electoral choice was so stark, so mutually exclusive that it created confusion. Those who were drawn to the welfarist approach of AAP government and benefitted from it would have whole heartedly gone and voted for it. But the poisonous campaign injected a doubt. Some of it may have been resolved by people deciding – as has happened earlier in Delhi – to vote for AAP in Delhi and for BJP at the Centre.
But in the days to come, the residents of Delhi will have to deal with this outlaw mentality tethered to an obscurantist ideology. These ideas will repeatedly try to divert the attention from aspirations for better jobs, better working conditions, better education and better healthcare. They will try to drag India back to centuries earlier, pretending to create a false sense of pride in religious identity, caste hierarchy, economic inequality and such thinking as that India always had airplanes and nuclear bombs, even in prehistoric times. Of course, the BJP’s loss in this election will put this at a disadvantage, but they will continue to work like this.
Youth, Students Among Those who Rejected Communal Ideas
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect – a glorious silver lining, if you may – is the palpable distancing of the younger generation from BJP’s medieval outlook. They are, of course, not alone. There are lakhs in this city who do not agree with the BJP-RSS vision. But the youth are noteworthy because it is they who will inherit the legacy of what BJP-RSS has done. It is a battle that they will fight in the future – but they have joined it now itself.
There is no data but, any real interaction with young people shows that they have a distaste for such backwardness. Also, they are far more disillusioned with Modi Sarkar and BJP because they tended to believe in Modi’s talk of making India great, of creating jobs, of providing good education, of security and safety, of digital revolution. But the past six years have painfully shattered these dreams. So, there is simmering anger among youth. In Delhi, they saw the crass attempts to increase fees in JNU, the armed attacks on JNU students and the police attack on Jamia university. They were outraged by a law that sought to discriminate against a religious community and came out on the streets in unprecedented numbers last December. Those in the job market know very well that it is sinking and sinking. Qualified young people are swallowing their pride and working at a pittance as faceless automatons.
All this has led the youth to abandon Modi and BJP-RSS. This is bound to get reflected in the counting on Tuesday. They will join the largely invisible and faceless, poor and hardworking mass of people that actually run the city, in supporting AAP as the better alternative, if not the ideal. AAP will also have to take on board these aspirations and go beyond welfarism to align more closely with essential needs of working people. Otherwise, they will not be able to resist the communal onslaught.
So, the results on February 11 will be keenly awaited by Delhi-ites and also people across the country. Because it will indicate the way India is going to go in the next few years.