Face Value: AAP's Obama-style Tweet Bid to Bait BJP into Repeating 2015 'Presidential' Polls in 2020
After five years in power, Arvind Kejriwal cannot claim to be the underdog and outsider. He needs a new narrative and a retaining wall to seek another term in office.
File photos of PM Narendra Modi and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.
New Delhi: In the winter of 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) faced twin problems in the run- up to the assembly polls. The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) was rearing to capitalise on the 2014 Modi wave to return to power in the national capital after a long vanvaas, which in this case had run for fourteen years and more.
To add to AAP’s woes, its leader Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘common man’ image was under constant attack by the opposition. Mufflerman’s smog-induced cough just wouldn’t go. And BJP leaders would daily mock AAP, asking how someone who couldn’t cure himself of common cold in three months would administer Delhi.
The turning point in the 2015 polls came with the BJP nominating Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial face and Kejriwal seizing the moment to make the elections a presidential-style contest. His team made optimum use of social and legacy media to drive home the point that the Delhi polls were about electing a chief minister and not the prime minister of the country. The party amplified this message with an assumption that AAP had an advantage over the BJP if the elections were to become a Kejriwal vs Bedi contest.
Fast-forward to 2020. A day after the Election Commission announced the poll schedule for Delhi, AAP again challenged the BJP to name its CM candidate.
The tweet seems inspired by a political communication strategy used extensively by Barack Obama’s rerun campaign in 2012. Political scientist Daniel Kreiss in a research paper published in 2014 refers to an incident during the Republican National Convention when “Hollywood star Clint Eastwood took the stage to lambast president Obama” in an “11-minute monologue where Eastwood conversed with an empty chair”.
A few hours later, the Obama campaign tweeted its response to elicit over 50 thousand retweets.
Communication scientists classify such online political interventions as “performative power” of social media. Kreiss describes performative power as well-timed acts, “in tune” with the situation which “provide actor A” a quantum of special force, which makes “actor B do something” he wouldn’t do otherwise.
Power is performative to the degrees that it rests in the particular “eventness” of a specific set of concrete actions, it is said. “It often works by transforming actors’ expectations and emotions, and thereby (contributing to the) control or coordination of their future actions.”
Five years later, and after five years in power, Kejriwal cannot claim to be the underdog and outsider. He needs a new narrative and a retaining wall to seek another term in office.
That is precisely what Kejriwal has attempted to do over the last six months through a media blitzkrieg. But he also understands that the biggest chink in the BJP’s armour remains a leadership vacuum in the Delhi unit.
Manoj Tiwari, the party’s state president, was appointed to reach out to the burgeoning Poorvanchali community as Sheila Dikshit’s influence ebbed. But internal dynamics in the party have made the BJP balk at the prospect of declaring Tiwari as its CM candidate. Old-timers from the ideological stable like Vijay Goel and union minister Dr Harsh Vardhan are other names in the reckoning.
Thus far, the BJP in Delhi has maintained that the assembly elections would be fought under the Prime Minister’s leadership.
In tweeting Lara Dutta’s image with a poser, AAP has again sought to challenge its main opponent to name its CM candidate.
The BJP took up the challenge to nominate Kiran Bedi at the last moment just ahead of the 2015 polls.
Will it bite the bait yet again in 2020?
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