Abhishek Bhattacharya
Are political parties saying enough and saying it right?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

As one drives down the roads of Delhi with radio playing in the background, it becomes apparent that assembly elections are just round the corner- in fact just a month away. With the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Delhi has become a three way contest among BJP, Congress, and AAP. In midst of this intense competition to woo voters, are political parties saying enough and saying it right?

Beginning with AAP, its leader Arvind Kejriwal delivers the pitch in his own voice. “AAP will form the government in Delhi by 15 December following which a special Assembly session will be called at Ramlila maidan to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. When Anna sat on fast, you were also present to fight for it; when AAP will pass the bill you will see your dream come true.” His bare bones straight talk immediately establishes a personal connect. Anna’s fast and Delhi’s struggle brings back positive memories of the mini-renaissance in the Indian political arena. To a prospective voter, the promise of a special session at Ramlila maidan reinforces the positioning of AAP as an unconventional party and reposes the voter’s faith in them due to alignment of personal and party interests.

Although Kejriwal’s style effuses confidence, the content smacks of over-confidence. While none of the opinion polls have predicted a clear majority for AAP (CNN-IBN-The Week, ABP News-AC Nielson, Sunday Guardian-CVoter, CNN-IBN-CSDS and many more), Kejriwal begins with an assumption that AAP will form the government. Given his past overtures with Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi, this might be perceived as over-confident and out of sync with reality. On the contrary, this will help AAP by shaking off the perception that it cannot muster the strength to form a government on its own. Further, this may make the voters think against voting tactically- in favour of BJP rather than AAP to prevent Congress from winning.

Out of power for 15 years, BJP has been using every opportunity to turn the anti-incumbency wave in its favour. In its latest radio advertisement, BJP uses a third person to extol Harsh Vardhan for eradicating polio from Delhi and says that likewise he will eradicate corruption. The use of third person is puzzling since BJP has a declared CM candidate. One possible reason could be that the ad campaign was designed before the CM candidate was announced and it was decided to just fill in the blanks. Nevertheless, a third person heaping praise comes out as a little cavalier. Highlighting only the polio programme evokes a feeling of dearth of achievements in Harsh Vardhan’s kitty whereas not highlighting wins of BJP as a collective such as Delhi Metro, incorporated and planned during Madan Lal Khurana’s tenure, brings to the fore the lack of party-centric focus allowing Sheila Dikshit to falsely claim credit for it. Polio programme is a targeted intervention affecting a small population base. It is a ‘not-negative’ benefit meaning the absence of you catching the deadly disease is a personal benefit. Certain not-negative benefits are perceived as bare minimum which are taken for granted. Polio eradication is a worthy achievement although the impact gets diluted if that’s the top pitch.

A safer strategy could be to just highlight the top three issues of corruption, price rise, and crime without any reference to the past since over a third of the total voting-age population in Delhi is below thirty five years of age who are unlikely to have any memory of a 15-20 year old past.

A predictable Congress has gone with the tried and tested method of using the common man’s voice to exhort the government’s achievements leaving us reminiscing about its electorally successful 2004 punchline-“Congress ka haath, aam Aadmi ke saath“. Congress advertisements are very individualised in nature and feature various men and women talking about how they have personally benefitted under Congress rule which is followed by a Daler Mehendi composed song (Phir se Congress layenge, Dilli ko jeetayenge). The positioning is very strategically aimed at the beneficiaries of various subsidy and redistribution schemes of Congress government. These beneficiaries are scattered across constituencies mainly falling in the East and North with a few colonies in the South. Seat-wise, they would collectively constitute about 20-25% of vote share sufficient to win a seat in the first past the post system. Also, the chosen subjects are diametrically opposite to contentious issues shifting the focus to positive work. This subsidy-driven vote bank politics would likely yield a substantial number of seats albeit with a thin margin.

With few voters making the effort to scrutinise manifestos, scan candidates, and critically analyse the plans put up by the parties, these advertisements need to be designed to deliver the maximum. While the AAP and Congress seem to be touching the right cord, BJP needs to buck the trend.