A Thumping Win. And a Debilitating Loss.

AAP won a thumping 62–8 victory in Delhi elections 2020, riding on #KaamKiRajniti and smart tactics around “avoid” anti-hindutva messaging to deny BJP any fuel to brand AAP as antu-hindu. Though BJP/RSS tried their polarisation fully at the street level — swear by Ganga jal, Jalebi prasad from Kashi and other emotional blackmail to get Hindus to vote to save Hinduism, AAP’s message on Edu, Health & clean governance for all was too strong resulting in a second humiliation for Amit Shah & Narendra Modi.

A confident AAP took oath and assumed office for a third time and set about its governance agenda. But it also did not give up its “compete on hindu” agenda — the MLAs announced monthly Sundar Kand and celebration of Hanuman chalisa, clearly a tactical move to occupy more and more of the hindu space against the “Jai Shri Ram” chants.

Excellence in Delhi governance had begun to be recognized the world over. Even the US First Lady wanted to attend a Delhi school to see what its “happiness curriculum” looked like. The press was talking about #DelhiModel in glowing terms and AAP was announcing state level expansion plans.

Clearly, this upset elements in BJP looking to establish their own political identities and turf. If the #DelhiModel got significantly established as order of magnitude better than anything any government has delivered in India in past 70 years and if AAP’s hindu identity became untouchable given its Hanuman affiliation, both local BJP leaders & national leadership had lots of fear. This had to be stopped. This had to be nipped in the bud. This had to be put down.

Enter Kapil Mishra, a cunning, opportunistic, glib talking and media savvy politician, who was once a minister in AAP cabinet (he fell out with Arvind Kejriwal as he attempted a coup against Kejriwal in the wake of AAP’s MCD loss with the help of Kumar Vishwas). Given space and resources by BJP, which controlled Delhi police and had used it to brutalise students in Jamia, JNU, Kapil realised he could orchestrate large scale law and order disturbances in Delhi with police protection and shift the narrative from AAP’s governance to hindu-muslim discord and disharmony.

The ongoing anti Anti CAA/NRC protests provided fertile ground to foment his evil design. The protesters in Jaffrabad had moved their protest to block a road (to put pressure on administration) and this became his target. He issued a threat to forcibly remove the protestors with the Delhi police DCP standing behind him. The visual messaging was ominous, the outcome deadly.

Within a day of Kapil Mishra’s threat, gangs of rioters assembled in the North East part of Delhi (where BJP won 5 of its 8 seats) and started its anti-muslim, riot program. The muslim side fought back and within hours, a full-blown riot had been engineered. By the end of the week, 42 people had lost their lives, hundreds were critically injured, thousands affected as shops, homes, offices burnt, places of worship vandalised and looted and Delhi’s social fabric torn like never before.

As Delhi police, tied down by the unseen “hand” that protected its wrong doings in JNU, Jamia and poor handling of crimes, waited, Arvind Kejriwal dithered, unsure of his raj-dharma and weighing in his political brownie points for any action taken. His first instinct, given his recently successes with the “no attack on Hindutva” was to make public appeals to LG, Delhi police, home minister to bring law and order to the city. It was to fall on deaf ears and people who had voted for him in large numbers were being methodically mowed down as he and his party filled twitter with copy/paste appeals.

When voices started to rise accusing him of not doing anything and letting the city state burn, not standing with the affected people and not using his support base to calm things down, the chief minister tried to visit affected areas, be with the people and be seen to stand against the violence. But it was too late. The damage had been done. Even as the police finally hit the streets and the rioting subsided, there was need for supporting those affected with medical care, housing, support and rehabilitation. The AAP government was caught napping and under-prepared and it took civil society activists to get the government to initiate its machinery to provide some relief to those affected.

For a party that was celebrating #KaamKiRajniti just ten days ago, it was accused of not knowing how to handle relief. No minister, or leader (except Sanjay Singh) was visible in media either with the affected people or helping setup / manage the relief and rehabilitation efforts.

And then even as the government found its feet and kick-started the relief and rehabilitation effort and its spokespeople started to acknowledge the missed opportunity to getting engaged and organized earlier, news came out that the AAP government had given sanction to prosecute the ex-JNUSU president and rising political figure, Kanhaiya Kumar, in a sedition case which is based on fake videos and fake narrative.

Though the approval was granted on 20th Februrary, well before the riots broke out, the news arrived in the midst of a general anger, disappointment and negative sentiment for AAP and exploded into a negative social media sentiment for AAP that I have not seen before since early 2015. Leading public figures, influencers, activists and voices of reason called it a betrayal, “deal” with Amit Shah, “sell out” to BJP and the wave of mistrust fueled by the failures on the riot control and management swept aside a significant part of goodwill that AAP had generated with its landslide 62–8 victory.

AAP tried to explain its position claiming that the approval to prosecute was purely procedural, but many legal experts refuted this and pointed out that the govt’s own standing counsel had recommended denial of sanction. AAP tried to play a political hand and equate congress’s nominating a candidate against Kanhaiya to justify its action but it boomeranged further. The tone and tenor of responses were angry, hurt, desperate — AAP lost its intellectual support by this one act.

So, where does AAP go from here. It has to first ensure impeccable management of relief and rehabilitation operations and repair its credibility with the affected people. Good governance is important, but protection of life and limb is primary for people. AAP’s lack of organization and ground presence was badly exposed in standing up to rioters. It will have to build capacity on this front to counter any future threat to its supporters & voters.

Secondly it has to initiate an engagement with the civil society and influencers and demonstrate its capacity to listen and execute. Its plans for national expansion and ability to attract good talent has been severely dented. It can take the arrogant stand of not caring about those who point outs its failings or be wise to its own limitations and show humility in repairing damaged relationships. Or else, watch all its attempts at building a footprint outside Delhi come to nought. And even face another washout in its own home ground in the upcoming Delhi MCD elections.

Will AAP eat the humble pie? Hum dekhenge.

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Innovator. Entrepreneur. Mentor. Investor. Learner. Love technology, sports, arts and literature. Strive to be fair. http://t.co/UFEkCAnU

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Arvind Jha

Arvind Jha

Innovator. Entrepreneur. Mentor. Investor. Learner. Love technology, sports, arts and literature. Strive to be fair. http://t.co/UFEkCAnU

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