The spectacular victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly election is matched in its intensity by the resounding defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Having been in power for the last five years, AAP’s second consecutive victory is not an electoral enchantment of a start-up, but an endorsement of its track record. Along the way, its founder and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has perfected a political cocktail that turned out to be the most potent counter to the toxic polarisation that the BJP has come to champion. His governance brought succour to Delhi’s poorest and the most vulnerable in the form of better and accessible education, health care and water in particular. It is clear that they voted with their feet, and reinvested their faith in the maverick politician. On a strong footing on the administrative front, Mr. Kejriwal deployed his characteristic dexterity to sidestep the BJP’s landmines with their aim of communal polarisation. In the process, he narrowed politics to an efficient delivery of public services and either skirted around all contemporary issues of wider import, or tacitly sided with the majoritarian sentiments on them. Devoid of a governance story, the BJP dragged electioneering to a new low to marginally improve from its 2015 tally. To that extent, the Delhi outcome exposes the limits of divisive politics and incentivises sensitive governance.
To read the Delhi result as a setback to Hindutva politics and a celebration of good governance emptied of all politics, however, will be a misleading exaggeration. True, Delhi is the latest in a series of blows against the BJP since its 2019 parliamentary victory, but it must be flattered by the manner in which its strongest opponent did not directly take it on. AAP did not contest the BJP on questions it framed. AAP’s success has not been in defeating the politics of the BJP, but in skirting it altogether. Nevertheless, the lesson that the BJP is likely to learn from Delhi is that hyperventilating on nationalist causes is not a sufficient condition for victory, particularly in State elections, and governance does count. Repeated electoral upsets might spur some voices of dissent in the BJP, hitherto muffled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah may have to rework their political idiom in order to hold sway. They might even borrow from the AAP playbook, but it will be the non-BJP parties including the Congress that drew a blank for the second time in Delhi, that will be dissecting the results for clues to a winnable non-BJP plank. But it would be a mistake to conclude that taking on majoritarianism by the horns is a poor strategy. The lesson is that any effective opposition to the BJP will have to develop an alternative politics that centrestages people’s everyday concerns, and their hopes and expectations about life and livelihood.