Delhi Loss: A wake up call for BJP

Published : Feb 22, 2020 11:24 am | By: M D Sridharan

The result of the Delhi election has dented the BJP and also provided a boost to the opposition parties. It is indeed a wake up call and time for BJP to introspect rethink on its strategies.

In the May, 2019, Lok Sabha election,  Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lost all seven seats in Delhi to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But in a span of just eight months the tables have turned and AAP registered an emphatic victory in the recently concluded Delhi Assembly elections. Indeed, Arvind Kejriwal scored a hat-trick by winning “Delhi” for the straight third time. Though the first attempt was short lived, in his second attempt he did come out stronger with a whopping 67 seats out of 70 and also successfully completed his full term in office.  Now, he has created history by securing a record 62 seats and in the process relegated the national party – BJP in to a distant second position with an abysmal 8 seats.  Congress - the country’s grand old party came a cropper. In fact Congress not only repeated its performance of 2015 assembly election and scored a nought but also lost its security deposit in 63 of the seats it contested.

Why BJP Lost?

What was started as a do-or-die battle for Kejriwal and Aam Aadmi Party has turned in to history for both. When the campaign began for the polls, BJP was confident of delivering a deadly blow to Aam Aadmi Party, but it just got reversed.

While BJP adopted a nationalistic pitch, Kejriwal followed an agenda that talked loud about his government’s achievements and welfare schemes.  Kejriwal  not only clearly stayed away from debating on national issues but also deftly handled Shaheen Bagh protest by not taking sides. Overall, he carefully avoided being identified with the Muslim community. Kejriwal also stopped criticising PM Modi and shifted his focus on the people and the development agenda especially his government has done in education and healthcare sectors.

On the other hand BJP followed a hyper-nationalist narrative and highlighted the Citizenship Amendment Act, abrogation of Article 370 provisions for Jammu and Kashmir, criminalisation of triple talaq, Balakot air strikes and tukde tukde gang. Overall BJP went all out to campaign entirely about non-developmental issues and focused more on national security. Also, the fact remains that though BJP extensively used the images of  Narendra Modi throughout the campaign, it was Amit Shah who led from the front with an aggressive tone.

Targeting the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh, Shah said, “Kamal ke button ko itni zor se dabana ki us button ke current se hi February 8 ki sham ko hi Shaheen Bagh waale uth kar chale jayein (Press the Lotus button on the EVM with such force that the current it generates makes the Shaheen Bagh protesters go back to their homes on the evening of February 8.”

Some of the BJP leaders including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur spewed aggression in the no-holds barred campaign. At an election rally Yogi Adiyanath, stated during his campaign that while the government fed "bullets to traitors”, Kejriwal AAP treated them with "biryani".  Anurag Thakkur  made an inflammatory comment .He said,"Desh ke gaddaron ko (traitors of the country)...", with the crowd responding with "goli maaro s****n ko (shoot them all)".

BJP candidate Kapil Mishra, compared the Delhi polls to an India - Pakistan Cricket match. Party MP Parvesh Verma said: "Lakhs of people gather there (at Shaheen Bagh). They will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”

After the Delhi loss, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said BJP leaders should not have made statements like "goli maaro” and "Indo-Pakistan match" in the run-up to the polls. Shah said the party may have suffered because of hate statements made by its leaders and the party has distanced itself from such remarks". Undoubtedly BJP’s aggressive tone has caused the party dearly.

While both Congress and BJP accused AAP for the freebies doled out by AAP and it remained as the   bone of contention in the political debates after the results. AAP argued that the freebies are part of good governance aimed at providing the basic facilities such as water, electricity, health and education. But it is no denying fact that the freebies struck a chord with Delhi’s poor voters and the result has become history.

Of course, Kejriwal is not the only Chief Minister to win two consecutive terms in the past. But, he has set the record of gaining over 50 per cent vote share consecutively. Today AAP claims itself as solution-driven political party that focuses on people’s welfare. With good classrooms, health camps, sufficient electricity and water, it looks like the voters were convinced.

The Rise of Arvind Kejriwal

From an activist to anarchist to a leader to reckon with, Arvind Kejriwal political career has clearly seen an upward trend. Today in 2020, nearly a decade after he burst onto the Indian political scene, one could see a mellowed down Kejriwal.  He has completely rebranded his image from an anarchist to a seasoned politician. Many say that the man behind Kejriwal’s image makeover is the political strategist Prashant Kishore.

With the image makeover, Kejriwal shed his confrontationist attitude and stopped taking on Modi and criticising him on every issue.  Instead, he focused more on his party’s winnability. Accordingly he also changed the tone of his campaign and remained mostly non-committal.  Considering the recent turmoil the centre and the BJP faced over many contentious issues the country has witnessed, the reinvention of Arvind Kejriwal – the politician – has proved to be the icing on the cake for the AAP.

Kejriwal is no more the angry and argumentative ‘anarchist’ and also started acknowledging the good works of PM Modi. Taking a closer look, in fact Kejriwal started to play his cards well in advance. He sought centre’s assistance in fighting Delhi’s air-pollution and supported Article 370, but, stayed away from commenting on CAA and was silent on Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia.

Another notable approach adopted by AAP is that Kejriwal did not organise big rallies, but concentrated on town halls and television shows. Besides, AAP workers carried out door-to-door canvassing in each assembly constituency. Most importantly, may be at the behest of Prashant Kishore, AAP started campaigning aggressively much before BJP has worked a plan for campaigning. 

Indeed the Delhi results have catapulted Arvind Kejriwal to a status of national reckoning and Kejriwal looks forward to cash on the momentum gained through victory. The Delhi Assembly election result is an affirmation of the Aam Aadmi Party’s triumph over BJP.

In the end it was Arvind Kejriwal who laughed all the way to sworn in as the Chief Minister of Delhi for the third time. The AAP chief not only won the election but also asserted his Hindu identity. It is for sure has dented BJP’s monopoly on Hindutva and nationalism.  

Is the opposition strengthened after BJP’s Loss?

With the loss of Delhi BJP has lost sixth state in a span of twelve months.  In the recent times the saffron party’s record in state elections looks alarmingly abysmal. Prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, what was touted to be the referendum for the Lok Sabha election, BJP lost three states — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — to the Congress.  Soon the party bounced back with a brute majority with 300 plus seats in the Lok Sabha election.

But, immediately after the Lok Sabha election, it registered below par performance in Maharashtra and Haryana and got thrashed in Jharkhand. Despite emerging as the single largest party in Maharashtra, BJP could not form the government.  While in Haryana, BJP managed to stitch an alliance Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), and formed a government, in Maharashtra its oldest ally Shiv Sena turned bête noire, and walked out of the alliance and formed a government with the NCP and the Congress.

Under such a backdrop BJP contested the Delhi elections and got routed by AAP.  The results of the Delhi election did throw up several questions. First it once again proved the voters’ sensibility towards voting differently in a state Assembly election and Lok Sabha election.  Not only in Haryana and Maharashtra, the BJP’s overall tally fell below its own projections in Delhi as well. Interestingly, both in Jharkhand and Delhi, BJP had won all seven Lok Sabha seats.

One of the main reasons the experts point out for the BJP’s loss in Delhi is that its rhetoric campaign that revolved around  national security and the threat posed by Pakistan. In its hyped nationalistic pitch, BJP projected the protesters against the CAA and NPR as traitors and its rabble mouthed leaders added fuel to the fire by adding more insinuation.

In the end it turned out to be a highly divisive campaign aimed at the Muslim voters and polarising the electorate on the basis of religion. Despite the Election Commission penalising some leaders, the party maintained silence. Surely, the kind of vitriolic viciousness displayed by BJP has led the party to a humiliating defeat.

In fact the polarised campaign allowed AAP not only to maintain to its vote share intact but also secure Congress’ vote share as the grand old party was completely decimated.

The opposition parties have always accused that the BJP’s strategy is to polarise voters on communal lines and they claim it is in the DNA of the party.  Already the opposition parties have ganged up in claiming that the Delhi results are a referendum against the CAA as well as a rejection of its high-pitched and polarising campaign.

Shah said the BJP, however, does not fight elections just for victory or defeat but believes in expanding its ideology through polls. Shah said his assessment on Delhi elections went wrong but asserted that the result was not a mandate on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

AAP and other the opposition parties interpreted the mandate as a rejection of the BJP strategy.  In a tweet, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, "Leaders playing on faith through hate speech & divisive politics should take a cue, as only those who deliver on their promises are rewarded".

While the results of the Delhi election has naturally given a boost to the opposition parties, as over the next year and half, Assembly elections will be held in Bihar, Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, it is time for BJP to introspect thoroughly and the saffron party has to rethink on its strategy of polarisation and campaigning to win back the people’s confidence.  Moreover, it is not just about  the citizenship laws, but also considering the downward spiral of the economy, it is highly essential for the party to register a victory in order to prove that its decisions and policies are indeed progressive initiatives .

Further, the Delhi election has proved that the BJP’s formulae can be successfully copied and implemented electorally. It is a fact that Kejriwal deftly employed a softer version of  Hindutva to beat BJP. All along AAP went tom-tom saying that the party espouses different ideologies and values, but Kejriwal simply pulled out a page from Narendra Modi’s book and followed it to the tilt.

Sure AAP has brought to the streets the competitive Hindutva politics..The new found formula - a combination of nationalism with soft Hindutva – is bound to bring in a tectonic shift in Indian politics. Already the country has seen opposition leaders doing temple hoping during campaigns and now is found even reciting slokas and giving doles to puja organisers.

The results of the Delhi elections will pave way for a paradigm shift in the campaigning strategies of the political parties.  In a way it is good to see that parties that lectured at length on secularism are now aping Modi and BJP and indulge in Hindu appeasement.

Time for BJP to Introspect

 Modi and Amit Shah will not see the Delhi election result as a failure of their strategy. It may not have helped BJP, but hasn’t taken away much either. In fact, if Lok Sabha polls were to be held today, Modi will manage to sweep Delhi again.

Brand Modi may not have diminished but it does not guarantee success at the state level. Moreover, it is clear that generally people exercise their franchise differently on the national and state platforms. During assembly polls people have always preferred to vote for the party that focuses on local issues and stick to the development agenda for the state rather than national issues and security.

The diminishing returns for the BJP state after state is surely a cause for concern. BJP’s control of Indian territory has shrunk from 70 percent in 2018 to barely 35 percent today. Political analysts point out that the Delhi election was significant to Shah as what 2002 Gujarat assembly election was to Modi. A win in Delhi could have proved Shah’s mettle as the true successor of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who could singlehandedly demolish the opposition. Modi remains the overwhelming choice at the national-level where his mass appeal remains unchallenged. However, the BJP's ideological hegemony on HIndutva stands intact and. nobody can take it away from BJP. Also, there is no other leader rising anywhere near Modi in stature who could challenge Modi even in 2024.

But at the state-level the election outcomes are being determined by local issues where people look forward to regional leaders to provide the solutions. The fact remains that the BJP is led by a very strong central leadership, but there exists a dearth of strong regional leaders except Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra or BS Yediyurappa in Karnataka or Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh. As a result BJP has failed to address local narratives, and consequently resulted in a series of losses for the party at the state-level.

At this juncture a moot question that rises in everyone’s mind: If opposition parties can develop strong regional leaders who have mass base, why can’t the BJP unable to do the same?  So, it is time for BJP to build not only a strong cadre base but also strong regional leaders who can take on the opposition satraps. First and foremost action is to identify key people in the respective regions and groom them further.  On the other hand if the BJP continue to lose another couple of states, then despite strong and bold leadership at the centre, the party will face lot of difficulties in implementing its national agenda. Moreover, it will lose its grip in the Upper House of Parliament and the opposition will have an upper hand in stalling the important legislations.

It is time for the BJP to thoroughly introspect and accordingly empower the state units. Also it is time to identify new leadership at grassroots-level and groom them for big occasions. Sure it will be a challenge for the BJP in the years to come.










Other Blogs