Delhi will test the AAP’s governance politics against the BJP’s strategy of polarisation

The contest between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Delhi Assembly election is worthy of attention for several reasons beyond the fact that it is happening in the national capital. AAP leader and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been successful in constructing a sui generis politics, geographically confined though it is. Mr. Kejirwal has narrowed down politics to governance questions developed through his long involvement in the Right to Information and anti-corruption movements. Fired up by an infinite capacity to fight, the AAP founder leader has been a match for the BJP amid the vast ruins of Opposition politics in India. The impressive improvements in the delivery of basic public services such as health and education by his government appear to have reinforced his popularity. Along the way, he has not just forgotten his signature agenda of an anti-corruption ombudsman and decentralised governance, but also concentrated so much power that AAP is synonymous with the leader. Mr. Kejriwal has also shown a remarkable ability to skip the polarising traps that the BJP lay for its opponents. He evades, rather than confronts, the raging debates of our time, such as citizenship; and often outsmarts the BJP in its own game of majoritarianism, like when he cheered as Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status. But, all his skills were not enough for a win in the Lok Sabha elections last year, which saw his party biting the dust for a second time. The endurance of his politics is on test.
If Mr. Kejriwal has painstakingly kept the focus on local governance issues, the BJPs attempt yet again is to raise a façade of emotive, discordant slogans to camouflage an economy that is flaking out. While Mr. Kejriwal walks a tight rope on the ongoing protests in Delhi against the CAA, the BJP has launched a blistering attack on them. Union Minister Anurag Thakur has led party workers in calling for the shooting of traitors, while a BJP Member of Parliament has equated the protesters with rapists and looters. Such statements are not merely condoned, but appear to enjoy positive encouragement from the top brass, as Home Minister Amit Shah himself has made protesters the target of his ire. Unable to offer an inspiring message of progress, the BJP hopes it can tackle Mr. Kejriwals popularity by raising the bogey of traitors at the door. The Congress has been trying to invoke the memories of its 15 years in government marked by a spurt in infrastructure development and economic growth in the State, but its ability to make the contest triangular remains suspect. There is a trend of voters making a distinction between parliamentary and State elections. If Delhi makes that distinction yet again, political parties will also have to write that into their respective electoral strategies.