The stupendous victory of Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi Assembly poll was not entirely unexpected. What did however come as a surprise was the tally of the Aam Aadmi Party. It was likely to win over 60 seats in the 70-member Assembly. The first-past-the-winning-post system this time benefitted AAP in what was virtually a direct contest between it and the BJP. The Congress collapsed so thoroughly that more than 60 of its candidates failed to retain their deposits. Kejriwal believes that the voters have a transactional relationship with politicians and distributing freebies is the only way to retain their support. So free bijli, free paani, free rides for women in local buses and the Metro — schemes such as all-paid visits for senior citizens to major centers of pilgrimages — are potent weapons to retain power. Kejriwal is a 24X7 propagandist, marketing his real or unreal achievement without any reference to the actual reality. It was clever of the AAP supremo that he refused to join issue with the BJP on Shaheen Bagh. He was aware that with the collapse of the Congress, the 16 per cent Muslim vote was certain to be polled by him and therefore saw no percentage in publicly supporting the Shaheen Bagh tamasha. Besides, his MLA from the Shaheen Bagh area was the main inspiration behind the protest against CAA.
The BJP, predictably, weaved its entire campaign around Shaheen Bagh, selling a version of hard nationalism which suspected the patriotism of ordinary Muslims. The forces behind the more than two month long blockade of one of the main arteries of the capital were extremist elements in the Muslim community who had gained the support of the elite secular media because of its visceral animus of Modi. The 16 per cent Muslim vote in the capital turned out in strength, recording nearly 96 per cent polling. This was virtually to the last vote the AAP gain. Thanks to a high-decibel campaign personally led by Amit Shah in the two weeks before the polling, BJP succeeded in increasing its vote-share to 40 per cent. The collapse of the Congress which barely polled four percent still cost the election to the BJP. Yet another State has written off the Congress.
Meanwhile, the Kejriwal victory can have a most deleterious impact on the economy if state after state follow his lead in giving all manner of freebies. The announcement by a number of governments to provide free electricity to the poor will worsen the financial position of state electricity boards which without exception are already in deep financial distress. If the Delhi contagion spreads further free rides for women in buses and local trains will be next, especially if an Assembly poll is near. Such reckless populism will only add to the fiscal deficit of the states. We can ill-afford such a waste, especially when the economy is in the grip of a slowdown. The BJP did not go into the poll with a chief ministerial candidate and its state unit was divided. Amit Shah despite his enormous energy and readiness to fight a good fight, cannot always make up for the weakness of the state units.