As the election fever rises, barbs are being traded and jingles composed, much to the amusement of the voters.
The dates for the Delhi election have been announced and with it an entertaining and quite imaginative mix of social media jousting. The Aam Aadmi Party has been punching it out and perhaps it has I-PAC to thank – the PR agency it has brought on board for the 2020 Assembly polls. All three though have been quite tongue-in-cheek, but more so AAP, with their videos and memes which have already drawn the ire of the main man targeted – Manoj Tiwari, the Delhi BJP President.
The party is now seeking Rs 500 crores in damages from AAP for a video which shows Tiwari dancing in his days as a Bhojpuri singer, supposedly to AAP’s campaign song "Lage raho Kejriwal". The video made it seem that the opponent itself is backing the present chief minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal’s re-election.
Other than the puns and the banter, the parties are also making various claims to be able to push aside the Kejriwal government which has had -- and continues to have -- a sour relationship with the BJP. As far as Congress goes, they were first a foe then a friend then a foe again for the AAP; but as we all know in politics neither friendships nor enemies last long.
So for now they remain foes, with the Delhi Congress on January 14 accusing the ruling AAP of "enrolling rejects" from other parties sensing defeat in the Assembly polls next month.
This came after a prominent face from Delhi’s Matia Mahal, 5-time MLA Shoaib Iqbal, joined AAP. This was followed by Ram Singh Netaji, a former Congress MLA, and Vinay Mishra, son of former MP of Congress Mahabal Mishra joining the fray. And there’s more: Rajkumari Dhillon, a former Congress councillor from Hari Nagar ward, also joined the AAP, and so did Naveen Dipu Chaudhary, who has reportedly been associated with the Congress.
Other than those names, former BSP Councillor and social worker Jai Bhagwan Upkar from Rohini ward of Bawana assembly constituency, too joined the AAP. Now with the candidates announced by the AAP, it features the new entrants. Upkaar has been announced as the candidate for the Bawana constituency, Dhillon has been fielded from Hari Nagar; Netaji from Badarpur and Chaudhary from Gandhinagar. There’s Iqbal who has a very good link to the area being nominated from Matia Mahal and Mishra, with his Purvanchali heritage staged from Dwarka.
While they may be called rejects, the party which has taken them on certainly does not believe so, as it has given tickets to all of them, brushing aside their own leaders. But anyway, the Delhi Congress chief spokesperson Mukesh Sharma’s theory is that the AAP “sensing defeat, is enrolling rejects from other parties as a face-saving act. Arvind Kejriwal is shaken up by the public anger against his party MLAs” adding that the CM was looking for candidates “from other parties as his party's volunteers have deserted him”.
Iqbal was in fact one of the few candidates from Congress who managed to come in second to the AAP in the Assembly polls of 2015. The Congress party candidates lost deposits in 63 of the 70 seats, as they could not make the required 15% votes. So this steal will definitely be pricking the grand old party.
Next, we get to another point raised by the Congress on AAP and especially Kejriwal’s apparent silence on the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests which have seen huge support across India. The Congress tweeted: “When students & citizens were being brutally attacked - AAP kahan thhe? When the middle class was on the streets protesting price rise & unemployment - AAP kahan thhe? What can be said about a CM that doesn't stand by his citizens? Kejri-WALL that never moved.”
Firstly, the “Wall” comment is referring to another campaign which began with AAP using the advertisement of Ambuja Cement. In it two families, here – one BJP and the other Congress – are unable to break the wall to unite…the wall here is "KejriWall".
It’s funny that AAP would make such commentary when they themselves came into an alliance with the Congress in 2013 to come to power.
But more importantly, what this comment targets at first is that AAP did not back the students when they were attacked – Jamia Milia students by Delhi Police personnel inside their university premises and then Jawaharlal University students by some masked goons, again inside their campus. The AAPs critics believe that the party has done to remain safe rather than being anti-government which these days gets translated to being anti-national.
Even so, Congress’ accusation is not shared by the BJP, who have blamed the other two parties for inciting violence during the protests. Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the party would “bring the truth out”, and called the protests a fight “between anarchists and those who opposed it.”
What did Kejriwal do?
Javadekar went on to say that their party’s main agenda would be to “wholesome development of Delhi”. Saying that “Today, people of Delhi are surprised that AAP slept through all these 4.5 years and remaining six months they have doled out schemes”.
But, not to be taking sides, the one scheme BJP's Tiwari is insisting on mimicking – free electricity -- was a poll promise of the AAP, and since coming to power they have brought the rates down. In 2015 they announced a slash in tariff of 50% to those who consume only 400 units of electricity per month. Last year they have made electricity free for those who consume 200 units and giving the subsidy to those using above 200 units till 400 units.
Tiwari said they would give five times the subsidy which, as Kejriwal pointed out, would mean that instead of 200 units, 1,000 units would be free. While for the budget year 2019-20 Rs 1,720 crore was allocated for providing subsidies to consumers through discoms by the AAP, a 5-time subsidy would mean, just for debate’s sake, about Rs 8,600 crore.
The AAP’s comeback line was “Tumse na ho paayega”, taking a dig at the BJP and asking them to first “give electricity in the states by BJP before promising free electricity”.
But Tiwari had gone a step ahead, saying that if BJP were to come to power in Delhi they would provide 25,000 litres of “good quality” water for free. At present, 80 million gallons per day of ground water is extracted, according to the DJB. For now, what the state has is a water sharing process which sees Haryana providing 584 MGD, and Uttar Pradesh 250 MGD, according to figures provided by the Delhi Jal Board. This brings the total output from these sources to 930-935 MGD while demand, according to the water authority, is 1,140 MGD.
Niti Aayog says that ground water in Delhi may run out this year so does giving free water help? The National Green Tribunal has last year already criticised AAP’s freebie of 20,000 litres a month for residents, and said residential complexes misused it.
These may be just words spilling out with no manifesto yet. After all, this is the first burst of election rhetoric.
This article was first published in The Patriot.