By Amrita Garg:
It is a battle of the brooms in the national capital of the world’s largest democracy. Quite apt for a nation which claims Mahatma Gandhi as its Rashtrapitah, one of the greatest champions of cleanliness and sanitation. We saw the arrival of the humble broomstick in the Indian political scene last year, with the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party promising to sweep away the cobwebs of corruption and dirty politics, which we had all accepted as part of our lives. And sweep away they did. For a few glorious months, every person walked with an almost Harry Potter-esque confidence in the power of that hitherto contemptible broom. The opposition, as it always does, laughed it away as a political gimmick. However, the broom had the last laugh come December 2013 when it also swept away the Delhi Assembly elections with an unprecedented victory for the debutant AAP. From there, however, it was all a downward spiral for Arvind Kejriwal and his merry band.
Forward to October 2014 and we saw our honourable Prime Minister, that consummate strategist, start his Swachh Bharat Abhiyan amid much fanfare and controversy. Where on the one hand, he appropriated the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi from the Grand Old Party, on the other, he hijacked the Aam Aadmi Party’s broomstick in one fell swoop. No effort or expense was spared to make this brainchild of Mr Modi a success. About 31 lakh Central Government employees followed their leader in this drive. Cocking a snook at his opposition, the PM invited politicians and celebrities from across the board to be part of this campaign. In yet another blow to the AAP, Shazia Ilmi, a founder member who had earlier in the year quit the party citing lack of internal party democracy, accepted the PM’s invitation amid rumours of her contesting the upcoming Delhi assembly elections on a BJP ticket.
In a bid to reclaim his party’s symbol, Arvind Kejriwal led his own cleanliness drive in the PM’s backyard, urging his supporters to participate with before-and-after shots of their localities. Manish Sisodia came out sounding confident of their victory in the upcoming elections and said that, notwithstanding the dismal Lok Sabha performance, “Our broom will sweep away the BJP from Delhi this time”. But the numbers tell a different story. As per a pre-poll survey conducted by ABP News-Neilson, the BJP, riding high on the Modi wave, will get a comfortable majority with 46 seats. It could end up with a 38% vote share, followed by AAP with 26% and Congress with 22%.
Why, then, did a national party of BJP’s stature feel the need to indulge in this kind of ambush marketing with respect to the brand property of a party whose fortunes are, for the most part, sinking faster than the Titanic? The reason can be traced to the party’s consistent reluctance in the past few months to contest fresh elections. Despite a tremendous victory in the Lok Sabha polls, the party remained hesitant to take on the AAP in what is seen largely as a two-horse race. This is because the poorer sections of Delhi’s electorate remain largely untouched by the Modi juggernaut which has carried away the upper and middle classes in its wake. The AAP also has a decent, though fast dwindling, support base among the youth. Striking at this, the Delhi unit of the BJP has started a “Barber Cell” for the 20000-strong community of barbers in the city, which will further spread word to clients. Whether it will be enough to shift the loyalties of these weaker sections to a party that is widely perceived as pro-rich, remains to be seen.
Ashish Sood, general secretary of the Delhi unit of the BJP exudes confidence as he says, “The AAP is in a state of panic because we have taken their broom, although the motive of the prime minister was not meant to scare away the AAP but to clean India and sweep away corruption. If in that process their [the AAP’s] broom has come into our hands it is collateral damage. We will make a clean sweep and win more than 50 seats.”
However, Professor Ashita Agarwal Sharma who teaches marketing, sounds a warning note for the BJP, “They have recently worked on their brand and redefined ‘lotus’ values which worked for them. Leveraging too much on broom or any attempt to include it as strategic brand imagery may dilute its own brand image. It is good only as a tactic to support a campaign”.
The question is which broomstick will the voters remember on the election day – the electoral symbol of the Aam Aadmi Party or the symbolism of the BJP’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Therein will lie the answer to a larger question that must haunt Arvind Kejriwal in the coming months – To be or not to be?