‘February 10: National de-worming day for Delhi’
That was perhaps the pithiest and most caustic text message that did the rounds on 10 February, as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) cruised towards blotting out the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and eliminating the Congress from the 70-member Delhi state Assembly. Internet Hindus and trolls who took pleasure in referring to AAP hard-hitter Arvind Kejriwal as a political ‘worm’ took a short break from their keypads after flying off their Twitter handles, blaming Delhiites for the vehemence with which they re-elected the diminutive, asthmatic, muffler-clad Arvind Kejriwal. The Magsaysay laureate, alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur and a former Indian Revenue Service officer proved himself a phoenix rising from the ashes, a leader who turned within hours the perceived invincibility of the high-wattage poll campaign run by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo into a mere joke.
Hours before AAP volunteers sprung to their feet chanting ‘Panch saal Kejriwal’, with some of them jiving in gay abandon, Raj Kumar, a cabbie who lives in Patel Nagar, home to AAP’s headquarters, said he was glad that the BJP campaign ended in a whimper. He wasn’t all that convinced about voting for Kejriwal’s party a week earlier because he shared doubts with thousands of others who had voted for AAP in 2013: why should one trust a guy who walked away after 49 days of being in power without fulfilling all the tall promises he had made in that year’s poll campaign? The BJP’s ad-spot on FM radio featuring an old woman who felt betrayed by Kejriwal had struck a chord, he recalls. “He is a nice guy, but can we trust him to govern? That was the question in the air until a few weeks before the 7 February vote,” notes Kumar. “And then as the campaign momentum picked up, when AAP leaders started meeting people so frequently, things started to change. Before I realised it, I had changed my views. The day before the election, everyone in my neighbourhood was saying he or she would vote for AAP. Suddenly, everyone trusted AAP and its leadership. Nobody wanted to vote for the BJP like how they did in the 2014 General Election,” he says, haltingly, looking for apt words to describe the tectonic shift in voter preference in the national capital. Perhaps a counter-advertisement by the AAP on radio did the trick—in it, Kejriwal addresses the old woman of the BJP campaign, asks her forgiveness, and promises a more mature Chief Minister this time round.
Ashok Tiwari, who sells hot samosas not far from Delhi’s tony Defence Colony Market, had voted for AAP in 2013 only to be dejected when the party walked out midway from power. He voted for the BJP in last year’s General Election, when India’s Hindu nationalist party, led by prime ministerial heavyweight Modi, won all of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha constituencies, dominating the vote-count in 60 of its 70 assembly segments. Tiwari, who is originally from Lucknow, had thought that Kejriwal was “overly ambitious” when he heard the news of his contesting against Modi in Varanasi for the 2014 polls. “I was not interested in him at all after he lost to Modi. But just a week before the Delhi Assembly election, I decided I would vote for AAP because its workers and leaders are very accessible, unlike Modi’s men who make promises and go. Ordinary people could become AAP candidates. The mood was infectious. AAP offered some hope. I was also put off by Modi wearing a Rs 10 lakh suit to impress the American president [Barack Obama]. Would any leader in a poor country like ours do it?” asks this amiable man. “I sensed just days before 7 February that all my friends and acquaintances had made up their mind to vote for AAP in Delhi no matter who ruled the whole country,” he explains, emphasising that the AAP leader, known for his theatrics, didn’t appear to be a ‘bhagora’ (deserter), the tag hung on him by Prime Minister Modi. “Modi referring to Kejriwal as ‘AK-49’ [for staying in power only for 49 days] appeared to me like a poor joke. Modi was talking too much and doing less. I didn’t like it,” says the 43-year-old.