The Bharatiya Janata Party has reasons to be satisfied as well as be unhappy with the Delhi assembly election results. Likewise, the Aam Aadmi Party, too, while celebrating the second successive sweep of the capital, would consider tempering its exuberance.
The cause of BJP to take consolation from the results lies in its vote share increasing significantly. Although the figure was not final at the time of this writing, the BJP vote share throughout the day varied from 38 to 41 percent and is likely to settle within this band. Whatever may have been the seat tally of the party in recent years—in either Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha polls—the BJP has a proven core voter base of about 32 percent indicating an increase of almost six percent.
The Story of Delhi Vote Share
It is clear that BJP's gain has been Congress's loss. The onetime GOP polled almost 10 percent in 2015 but its share now is down to barely 4 percent, indicating that old Congress voters shifted loyalties to BJP and not to AAP. For AAP, the verdict—although an endorsement of the Arvind Kejriwal government and its campaign—also demonstrates its inability to further enthuse voters the way they succeeded in 2015. The AAP vote share remains almost the same as before.
- It is clear that BJP’s gain has been Congress’s loss.
- BJP’s divisive and polarising campaign template, personally created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, has simply not worked.
- It is just for the lesser mortals to accept responsibility and state chief, Manoj Tewari, took all responsibility for the debacle.
- For the BJP, there is the added worry of its ties with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hitting a turbulent phase.
- The RSS argument pleading for plurality of Hindu organisations is not good news for the BJP.
The 2015 mandate was the first stumble of the Modi juggernaut, while this time BJP had already lost two states barely months after an emphatic re-election.
Moreover, voters turnout released by Election Commission later than it is usually done triggering multiple speculations, at 62.6percent was not poor but certainly not near the high point of 67.5 percent in 2015.
With the BJP having lost considerably from the May 2019 levels in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and also Haryana where it scrapped through, the AAP's failure to attract voters who deserted the Congress should be a matter of introspection.
However, if one were leave these compelling data sets aside and look at the verdict from a political prism and assess the impact this is likely to have on national politics, it will be BJP that will be scampering for cover. Most significantly, the BJP's divisive and polarising campaign template, personally created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, has simply not worked.
Modi and Shah Would Not Take the Blame, As Usual
This is the third political reverse for the BJP since May 2019 and all for the same reason—bringing in national issues while the voters have shown to the inclination to go local. The BJP, Modi-Shah downward, failed to differentiate between its diatribe against the anti-CAA brigade and the Delhi polls campaign.
Previously, in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and even Haryana, the BJP emphasised excessively on Article 370 and triple talaq, while voters in these states were looking either at bread and butter issues, or at other regional concerns.
If Modi thought that his idea of "protestors can be identified with their clothes" was the correct pitch in Delhi, Shah took it one step ahead by depicting Shaheen Bagh as hate symbol number one for these polls.
Eventually ‘current’ did not strike the venue of the protest but recoiled on the party.
In normal circumstances, there should be introspection in any defeated party. For BJP, this is all the more necessary because this is the second time in a row that it failed to win an assembly election barely months after sweeping all Lok Sabha seats in the capital. Yet, internal democratic space has shrunk hugely within BJP and it is just for the lesser mortals to accept responsibility. It was on expected lines that state chief, Manoj Tewari, said he took all responsibility for the debacle.
If Not Hate, What Can BJP Showcase?
The moot point is if BJP would dial down its hate campaign in successive elections or not. But the worry for the party is that if is casts aside its hyper nationalistic plank, what does it showcase? In recent months the party has not demonstrated any concrete idea to kickstart the economy and find jobs, the lack of which is the single most important factor behind the BJP losing on support of the youth.
More worrisome is that there are signs that the BJP leadership is getting intoxicated in its own poison. There does not appear to be an easy way out for the party except possibly in Bihar where it has already conceded space to Nitish Kumar. Given the fact that the assembly polls in that state, later this year, will be led by the chief minister who now gets the upper hand while negotiating, one can expect vitriol to be either completely absent, or significantly toned down.
This, however, may not be the case in West Bengal where BJP has walked on the polarising path for too long and has no alternate strategy to pose a challenge to Mamata Banerjee. Even the tactic of whipping up passions by emphasising on alleged appeasement of Muslims by the Trinamool Congress may not be as much a success as it initially appeared. Importantly, Banerjee, under the guidance of Prashant Kishor, is also laying emphasis on governance and not any more reducing the political contestation with BJP into a personal duel with Modi. It is no 'Didi versus Dada' anymore, at least in the Trinamool narrative.
What Will the Sangh Parivar Do Now?
The Delhi verdict proves that the strategy of demonizing the adversary has backfired on the BJP. It certainly stumbled badly by keeping the focus of its campaign on Shaheen Bagh and all that it symbolised and was surrounded with. Instead of presenting a coherent argument on failures of AAP government, the BJP campaign tried to link the chief minister to anti-CAA campaign, showing him as part of the Fifth Column within India.
For the BJP, there is the added worry of its ties with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hitting a turbulent phase. In political equations within the saffron fold, it was palpable for a couple of months that the Nagpur-based leadership was feeling a trifle 'jealous' at the Modi-Shah duo accomplishing with aplomb all major ideological objectives of the sangh parivar—triple talaq, Article 370 et al.
The statement of RSS second in command, Bhaiyyaji Joshi, that "opposing BJP doesn’t mean opposing Hindus," has to be framed with the competitive spirit within the RSS fraternity. After all, if Modi becomes the deliverer of all goals, it will be a matter of time before the relevance of RSS is called into question.
The RSS argument pleading for plurality of Hindu organisations is not good news for the BJP, especially when it coincides with a major setback. The question however, is if the Modi-Shah duopoly will hit the 'pause' button to take stock and devise alternate strategy.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quintneither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)