Arijeet Bhattacharya: Kejriwal and the art of war

Written By kom nampultig on Rabu, 11 Februari 2015 | 07.20

Among the people celebrating the AAP victory today are IITians. One tweeted, AAP: the best IIT start-up. Another said: Kejriwal ki placement lag gayi. But this was as much a feat in engineering a victory as it was in managing a campaign. Cues for which seem to have come from Sun Tzu's Art of War.

Rule of war #1: If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.

After the stinging 2014 loss, when Kejriwal was humbled in Varanasi by Narendra Modi, once his decision to contest 430 seats had been proved to be spectacularly foolish, Kejriwal did not roll over and pretend to die. He just came back to the capital and hit the trenches. As per reports, Kejriwal started his Jan Sabhas in December addressing about four to five of them in a day. That meant a direct connect with about 15,000-20,000 people on a regular basis. The Delhi Dialogues created a rich mine of data that could then be utilized to craft a very smart manifesto. If there was despondency after such a humiliating defeat, it was not evident among his social media soldiers who took on BJP trolls tweet for tweet, comment for comment.

Rule of war #2: The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

By January, a seriously worried BJP unleashed its brahmastra Narendra Modi to lead its Delhi campaign. He began from Ram Lila Maidan thundering, voting for Kejriwal would be like voting in an anarchist, a Naxalite. With that remark, Kejriwal had succeeded in nudging the BJP to make this a presidential contest. David was now looking Goliath in the eye. For months, Kejriwal put up posters on auto rickshaws with his picture vs that of Mukhi or sometimes with a question mark. It forced the Amit Shah, with his all win record, to make the one tactical mistake he had avoided so far in elections to Maharashtra, Haryana or Jammu and Kashmir. He felt compelled to anoint Kiran Bedi as the foil for Kejriwal.

Rule of war #3: It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy's strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, be able to divide them; if equal, engage them.

Bedi's joining the poll battle, followed shortly by Shazia Ilmi's were severe setbacks given their earlier association with Kejriwal. But Kejriwal managed at every turn to upstage Bedi. First, he managed to neatly transfer the bhagoda tag to Bedi, by his offer for a debate. Kejriwal had prepared well for his campaign and he constantly checkmated Bedi by asking her to take a position on Delhi's statehood. With a BJP government at the Centre, Bedi was in no position to take a stand on the issue. There were the well disguised leaks. It turned out Crane Bedi wasn't the one to have wielded the crane on Indira Gandhi's illegally parked car. Even Bedi's earlier talk of taking on Kejriwal in his own constituency proved to be just bombast when the BJP gave her its strongest bastion of Krishna Nagar to defend — a task she failed to do. Kejriwal looked battle-hardened through the entire campaign, Bedi looked like a spring chicken.

Rule of war #4: To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

This was an election in which Kejriwal managed to create the maximum impact with the least amount of mudslinging. He never made the campaign personal refraining from attacks against Modi. Despite obvious bitterness at Bedi's switch, he refused to mount any character assassination attempts on her. He just waited for others to make mistakes. And Kejriwal's patience paid off — best illustrated in the manner he turned the "upadravi gotra" remark and Anna Hazare's cartoon to his own advantage. While Bedi fought the inertia that seized her local party leaders following her sudden elevation, Modi's suit of self-obsession exposed yawning chinks in BJP's armour. Neither of the issues were highlighted by Kejriwal in his speeches even though Rahul Gandhi did fall for the temptation to take a dig at Modi. Kejriwal focused on bijli, paani, wi-fi and other aam aadmi concerns throughout making it a positive message for change. Some BJP MPs attempts at polarization and even the mysterious church attacks were issues that could easily stir emotions. But this was a different Kejriwal, a smarter Kejriwal, one who refused to take the bait not even when it came from the Imam of Jama Masjid.

Rule of war #5: Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

"Ek baar aur mauka dijiye. Iss baar chipakke baithoonga. (Give me one more opportunity. This time I will sit glued to the chair)". Kejriwal made a virtue of his apology and by extension of his 49-day stint in power. In contrast, there was a man who had refused to look mortified for a riot that claimed many lives in his watch. The apology did not weaken the Kejriwal campaign, it strengthened him. As did his humility in victory. Immediately after vanquishing his opponents, Kejriwal appeared in public with his wife and said, "I have dragged her here today," he said. "I told her the government will not take any action … I would not have been able to achieve anything without her. I can do nothing alone, I am a small man." This is modesty that goes down well with the Indian voter, possibly much more than an expensive suit.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.


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