The Gloves are Off| Delhi – States News

Addressing back-to-back ral­l­­ies in Delhi’s Rithala and Janakpuri areas on January 27, Union home minister Amit Shah asked Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal if he was in favour of arresting Sharjeel Imam, the student-activist facing sedition charges in five states over his controversial remarks at Aligarh Muslim University (a rambling speech during which he took potshots at the Left and the Right and then sug­gested a blockade to cut off the Northeast to protest the condition of Muslims there). “Kejriwalji, are you in favour of action against Sharjeel Imam or not? Make it clear to the people of Delhi,” Shah said in one of his speeches.

Within minutes, Kejriwal took to Twitter and asked what was stopping Shah from arresting Sharjeel. “…or do you have to do more dirty politics now” the Delhi CM tweeted. The trading of charges and the verbal sparring between Shah and Kejriwal have visibly escalated in the last leg of campaigning for the Delhi assembly election.

With less than ten days to go for the February 8 polls, the BJP, which is yet to announce a chief ministerial candidate, has put all its might behind a late tactical manoeuvre to make Shah’s hard line on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 or CAA — and Kejriwal’s ambivalence on the subject — a pivot of their campaign. This marks a clear departure from its earlier strategy, where the BJP, which has been out of power in Delhi for more than two decades, was banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outsized image to put it past Kejriwal who is seeking a third term after a curtailed 49 days in office and the landslide win in 2015 (67 out of 70 seats).

In the last week of December, days before election dates were announced, the BJP’s Delhi unit had launched a massive publicity drive to highlight the Modi government’s decision to regularise unauthorised colonies. It put up thousands of hoardings in these settlements, which have some 4 million residents, flashing the promise and the PM’s face as a tacit endorsement of it. Modi had also launched the BJP’s campaign with a rally in Ramlila Maidan in December.

But things started changing on the ground on January 23, with Shah hitting the campaign trail. As many as 343 public meetings were held on January 25 and another 250 on January 26. In the first three days, Shah was part of 11 poll-related programmes, including nukkad sabhas (street corner meetings). Taking over from Modi as the face of the BJP’s campaign, which had by now assumed an openly communal and vitriolic character (BJP MP from West Delhi, Parvesh Verma, was talking of how the Shaheen Bagh protesters would “enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, and kill them”), Shah, in rally after rally, accused Kejriwal of misleading the people of Delhi, claiming AAP’s promises of free wi-fi and quality education was all hogwash.

Kejriwal, who had carefully avoided any anti-Modi rhetoric and chosen to focus on his governance plank, released a video message on January 26 asking Shah to stop humiliating the people of Delhi. “For the last few days, Amit Shahji has been coming here to campaign daily and insult the people of Delhi. This is not right. In the past five years, the people of Delhi have worked very hard to improve our city,” the chief minister said in the video. Political analyst Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) says the BJP’s decision to now foreground Shah is a deliberate strategy to shield PM Modi. “The BJP has changed its campaign style. They have moved from Modi to Shah as far as state elections are concerned,” says Kumar. (A BJP leader who did not want to be named said Modi might address a rally or two in the first week of February after the budget session is over.)

At the time of going to press, it looked like the BJP’s poll campaign was no longer centred on governance promises, but rather on issues such as the scrapping of Article 370 in J&K, triple talaq and the CAA, all of which have a certain communal flavour. “The BJP has gone back to the basics, furthering its larger narrative of nationalism. If the polls get any more polarised in the days to come, it will damage AAP,” says Kumar.

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