NEW DELHI: Ravinder, 34, works as a security guard with a private firm. Born and brought up in a lower-middle-class colony of south Delhi, he voted for the Aam Aadmi Party in 2015, just like many others from his social strata.
Five years later, his support for the AAP has not diminished.
“The party has provided free electricity, free bus rides to women and installed street lights at many places,” he said, revealing the reasons for his faith in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party.
But in the past one week to 10 days, a new element has crept into the discourse in his social circle. From only bijli, paani, schools and mohalla clinics, the success stories the AAP loves to trumpet, Shaheen Bagh, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the tukde-tukde gang have entered the topics of discussion.
“When there was violence (during the CAA protests) the AAP didn’t say anything and played safe. (Narendra) Modi is a good Prime Minister and that’s why people voted for him (in 2019),” Ravinder said.
“Recently people from the AAP came and said the Bharatiya Janata Party is spreading wrong information on CAA. But why would they spread wrong information? So far whatever Modiji has done, they were for the benefit of the nation. I don’t see anything wrong in CAA,” said Kushal Chand, 44, who runs a grocery shop and is an AAP supporter.
Come February 8 when Delhi will cast its vote, both Ravinder and Kushal will most likely vote for the AAP, but they admitted that Shaheen Bagh and CAA also occupied their mindspace.
This was not so until even 15 days back, when conversations in the Delhi Metro, salons, roadside eateries, parks and drawing rooms centred mainly around free water and subsidised power.
The AAP was also setting the tone of the campaign till just a fortnight ago, bringing out a report card of its tenure and a guarantee card on its promises.
The BJP and the Congress were forced to play catch-up, reacting and debunking every AAP boast of its work.
But ever since Union Home Minister Amit Shah descended on the election track with a shrill and aggressive campaign on Shaheen Bagh, CAA and nationalism, the narrative is no longer only about bijli, paani.
Such is the BJP’s pitch that the AAP is now forced to react. For instance, on JNU student Sharjeel Imam, when Shah attacked Kejriwal’s silence, he was forced to respond.
Voters torn between development and nationalism
“Sharjeel talked about cutting off Assam from the country. You are the home minister of the country. It is your responsibility to get him arrested,” Kejriwal tweeted. For many, Shaheen Bagh and nationalism are issues they have “heard about” and are important, but what matters more is work on the ground.
“Kejriwal has done the best thing by cutting electricity and water charges for us poor people so I will vote for him. I have heard about Shaheen Bagh but the protest should be such that it does not hamper routine work,” said Chitranjan, a casual labourer.
In agreement is Ram Yadav, a security guard in north-west Delhi.
“Where is the question of Pakistan in the Delhi elections? Jhadu (AAP’s election symbol) should come back as they have provided relief to the poor people,” he said. But Arun Kant, a small shopkeeper living in south-east Delhi, is not convinced.
“Modiji thinks about the country and we should support him. I voted for the AAP in 2015 but now I am in a dilemma, so will I decide at the eleventh hour,” Kant said.
Taxi driver Rajesh Yadav of north Delhi is also undecided.
“CAA and NRC are good steps but I have not made up my mind. Work done in schools in the last five years is also something that should be appreciated,” he said. But there are others who swear by nationalism and see a threat to the ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Devinder Khanna, who runs a shop in East Delhi, said “nationalism is the first thing, the rest are useless. My electricity bill is the same as before so I don’t care about personal benefits. For me, the party that guarantees the country’s security will get my vote.”
Social activist Sunita Maurya of East Delhi sees a grave threat to the nation. “Look at the blunder happening at Shaheen Bagh. We have to save the Hindu Rashtra from the blunder of ours sisters and daughters,” Maurya said. But the AAP claimed it was not perturbed.
“People of Delhi are smart and will see through this negative campaign of the BJP. Delhi citizens will vote on work done, everyone that we are meeting and the feedback from the ground is that people are speaking about vote on work and developmental policies,” said Pankaj Gupta, national secretary of AAP.
However, the BJP said people of Delhi have a right to decide if they want a nationalist government.
“Our objective was to make people understand whether they want a government that supports ‘Jinnahwali Azadi’ or the ‘tukde-tukde gang’. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said he stands with Shaheen Bagh. What does it mean? His government didn’t give sanction to prosecute Kanhaiya Kumar and others in the JNU sedition case,” said Harish Khurana, spokesperson of the Delhi BJP.
For its part, the Congress dismissed the BJP’s high pitch campaign on nationalism. “We are better placed than the two parties and the people of Delhi understand the divisive game being played by the BJP, while the AAP has failed miserably despite a massive mandate,” said Congress in-charge of Delhi P C Chacko.
(Reported by Richa Sharma, Siddhanta Mishra, Somrita Ghosh & Rahiba Parveen)