Hate speeches, name-calling andbinaries such as pure-impure and traitor-terrorist marked the campaign narrative of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the February 8 election to the 70-member Assembly. Once the election heat subsides, what people will remember it for will be slogans such as “ desh ke gaddaro ko goli maaro salo ko ” (shoot these traitors) and declarations such as Chief Minister “Arvind Kejriwal is a terrorist”.
The fact that these slogans/declarations did not come from riff-raff but were mouthed by Union Ministers Anurag Thakur and Prakash Javadekar is astounding (see story on page 92).
Despite the fact that the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) focussed its campaign on issues such as health, education and bijli-sadak-pani (electricity, roads and water), the BJP’s campaign centred around issues such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the National Population Register (NPR), Article 370, construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and triple talaq.
The BJP’s election manifesto, which talked of sops, freebies and development, got lost on the ground when campaigning began. The protesters at Shaheen Bagh (a locality in Delhi where women have been staging a sit-in against the CAA, the NRC and the NPR since mid December) were described as traitors who supported the “ tukde-tukde ” gangs. Amit Shah, the BJP strongman and Union Home Minister, led this hate campaign. At one of his election meetings, he gave the call to press the button in such a manner that “those at Shaheen Bagh felt the current”.
Parvesh Verma, the BJP MP from Delhi, urged voters not to miss the chance to elect the BJP to power because otherwise those at Shaheen Bagh would enter “people’s homes and rape and kill their daughters and sisters”. Given the fact that Delhi’s law and order machinery is under the Union government and that top BJP leaders did not condemn such statements, party leaders like Verma became emboldened to declare that if people voted for a “terrorist like Kejriwal”, the country’s security would be in danger. Although the Election Commission (E.C.)barred Verma from campaigning for three days, BJP leaders never uttered a word against him.
In fact, Javadekar, Information and Broadcasting Minister, even defended Verma by saying that there was ample proof that Kejriwal was a terrorist. “He has declared himself to be an anarchist. It is one and the same thing,” Javadekar said by way of proof. The E.C. ignored this. It also ignored the instance when Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur made the crowd chant “ desh ke gaddaro ko goli maaro salo ko ” at an election meeting.
Another BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, who contested and lost from the Model Town constituency, declared in one of his speeches that “February 8 would see a match between India and Pakistan”. The E.C. censured Mishra, but top BJP leaders remained silent.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who the BJP roped in as its star campaigner, was given a long rope to peddle hate (see box). His entire campaign was loaded with innuendos against Muslims and the ongoing protests against the CAA/NRC/NPR. In one of his speeches, he said if these people did not listen to words, they would definitely listen to bullets (“ boli se nahi to goli se to samjhenge hi” ).
The BJP manifesto, which was released with a lot of fanfare, did have some good talking points such as providing good quality wheat flour to the poor at Rs.2 a kg, cycles for schoolgoing girls,e-scooty for college girls belonging to poor families, financial assistance to the tune of Rs.51,000 for the marriage of girls from poor families, improving the city’s infrastructure by spending Rs.10,000 crore, ridding Delhi of its huge garbage mountains, providing clean drinking water to each household, and providing proper houses to slum dwellers. The manifesto also promised to develop unauthorised colonies, which the Delhi government was in the process of regularising. Unfortunately, as the campaign progressed, all these points got lost in the communal propaganda and symbols of hate that started emerging: so biryani, a delicious food item, became a symbol of hate (Kejriwal feeds those at Shaheen Bagh biryani). Yogi Adityanath taunted Muslim men, saying they made their women sit on roads (to protest against the CAA/NRC/NPR) in the winter while they themselves slept covered in the comfort of quilts at home. Parvesh Verma told voters that Kejriwal’s election would bring Mughal rule back in Delhi.
Surprisingly, such barbs did not provoke the AAP into retaliation. Much to the party’s credit, neither Kejriwal nor any of the AAP candidates responded to the taunts in the same vein. They focussed single-mindedly on the AAP government’s work, saying they would only talk about schools, mohalla clinics and bijli-sadak-pani . “If I have worked, then you vote for me, otherwise don’t,” Kejriwal told voters. He released a report card of the work done by his government and a guarantee card for the next five years. He did not talk about the CAA/NRC/NPR or Shaheen Bagh or other protests elsewhere, completely sidestepping the communal campaign of the BJP.
Kejriwal mainly spoke about the subjects mentioned in his manifesto: free power up to 200 units, free water up to 20,000 litres, free travel in Delhi Transport Corporation buses for women, a free pilgrimage scheme for the elderly, security for women, a pollution-free Delhi, good schools and good mohalla clinics.
Besides road shows, rallies and door-to-door contact programmes, Kejriwal conducted his campaign on social media and mobile platforms as well.
His only answer to the BJP’s communal campaign was a visit to the Hanuman temple at Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi before filing his nomination papers. Incidentally, Kejriwal visits this temple frequently. His previous party office was located on the lane behind this temple. He ran his election campaign in 2013 and succeeded in forming the government with the support of the Congress from the office on this lane. But, the BJP Delhi president, Manoj Tiwari, declared that Kejriwal’s visit had made the temple impure. The AAP used this comment to the hilt to hit out at the BJP for practising untouchability.
The Congress’ campaign
As for the Congress’ campaign, the less said the better. The party’s leaders looked back with nostalgia to the three-term rule of Sheila Dikshit. A poor copy of the AAP’s manifesto, the Congress promised free power up to 300 units, free education for girls up to the doctorate level, free diagnostic and medical facilities, unemployment allowance to educated youths, enhanced pension to the old and destitute, and reservation for women in government jobs. But the campaign was hardly visible anywhere on the ground. Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra practically gave the campaign a miss: they half-heartedly addressed a couple of meetings each. No wonder a crestfallen BJP actually blamed the poor performance of the Congress (the party did not win a single seat) for the AAP’s landslide victory.