Delhi Poll Debacle is Almost Personal for Amit Shah And it Shows

No amount of bluster can dent the perception that the loss in Delhi Election is a big setback for Amit Shah.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
The Delhi verdict may have irrevocably damaged its chief electoral tool: polarization through the Hindutva plank.
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Before he decried hate speeches made by his party leaders during Delhi election campaign, there was radio silence from Amit Shah as Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party zoomed to a second consecutive victory in Delhi. While prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP president J P Nadda congratulated the newly elected chief minister for his stupendous feat, the union home minister who had personally shouldered the responsibility of ousting AAP, chose to say nothing. In fact, he didn’t even show up in Parliament on result day although he was listed to answer questions related to his ministry in the Lok Sabha.

One wonders what was going through Shah’s mind as he absorbed the magnitude of what Kejriwal had pulled off. His thoughts must have left a bitter taste in his mouth because the BJP’s defeat in Delhi will reverberate nationally in the weeks and months ahead.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Home Minister Amit Shah addresses an election campaign rally for the upcoming Assembly elections in the National Capital.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Home Minister Amit Shah addresses an election campaign rally for the upcoming Assembly elections in the National Capital.
(Photo: AP)

Amit Shah Turned Delhi State Election into National Election And Got Defeated

There are three reasons for this. One is the hit that Shah has taken. He is, after all, the second most important person in the Modi dispensation. By throwing himself into the campaign the way he did, he turned a glorified municipal election into a national election, brought himself into sharp focus, and grabbed eyeballs across the country. The entire nation, not just Delhi, waited with bated breath for the outcome.

No amount of bluster can dent the perception that the loss is a big setback for Shah.

He has stewarded many elections for his party as president but this was the first time he made himself the face of the campaign. It left him vulnerable in defeat.

As Shah stormed his way through 52 rallies and padyatras in two weeks in the Capital city, the battle for Delhi became a contest between him and Kejriwal. When Kejriwal won, Shah looked defeated. Derisive memes and videos flooded social media with his ill-advised appeal to Delhi voters to send a “current’’ to Shaheen Bagh through the lotus button on the EVM providing ample fodder for humorists and cartoonists.

Shah will survive this setback. It’s a momentary blip because he is far too integral to the Modi dispensation to face any consequences. However, his post-result silence suggests that he has taken the loss badly.

Violent Communal Agenda of BJP Has Been Rejected

The second reason is more worrying for the BJP. The Delhi verdict may have irrevocably damaged its chief electoral tool: polarization through the Hindutva plank. The result is not just an endorsement of Kejriwal’s positive campaign and governance record. It is equally a stinging rejection of the violent communal agenda the BJP unfurled in the Capital.

The BJP banks on Hindu-Muslim divisions to win polls, but it hasn’t bared its fangs the way it did in Delhi ever since it window dressed Hindutva in the colours of nationalism and development.

The campaign was brazenly communal. The rhetoric was brutal. And for the first time ever, the Capital’s streets were bathed in blood during an election as members of the saffron fringe fired guns, while goon squads and the police went berserk on college campuses.

In fact, BJP campaigners seemed out of control with normally affable leaders like union minister Anuraag Thakur and Lok Sabha MP Parvesh Verma upping the anti-Muslim pitch beyond acceptable levels to incite slogans of “goli maaro’’ and raise imaginary fears of rape by Shaheen Bagh protestors.

Union Finance Minster Anurag Thakur
Union Finance Minster Anurag Thakur
(Photo: PTI)

This was Hindutva in its ugliest form and Delhi gave it an equivocal thumbs down. BJP spokespersons have been defiantly defending their campaign by flagging the increased vote share and seat tally. But consider this: BJP unleashed the might of the union home minister, several cabinet ministers and 270 MPs and carpet bombed the city with 6,577 election rallies including two mega ones by prime minister Modi and netted a 5% bump in votes and five seats more than last time. The gains are disproportionately meagre to the gigantic burst of effort that went into fighting the Delhi election.

As the BJP girds up for upcoming state assembly elections (Bihar later this year, Assam and West Bengal next year and the big one in UP in 2022), it could choose to be smart and recalibrate its Hindutva appeal or it could be stubborn and draw no lessons from its Delhi misadventure.

Amit Shah May Now Have to Compete With the Leader He Elevated in Stature — Kejriwal

There is a third reason why the Delhi verdict will play out nationally. By pitting the second most important man in the Modi dispensation against a chief minister who it could have dismissed as a glorified mayor (because Delhi is not a full-fledged state), it has inadvertently elevated Kejriwal to the stature of a national leader.

It has been evident since he first burst on the political scene that Kejriwal nutures national ambitions. He had to eat humble pie after getting a bloody nose from Modi in Varanasi in 2014 and then losing the Punjab assembly polls

in 2017. But his ambitions are bound to soar after his second coming on the debris of the BJP.

There are enough pointers already. He is talking about the birth of a new kind of politics, the politics of work. His supporters are pitching the Delhi model of governance as something for other states to imitate and adopt. And his party has invited people of India to join AAP for nation building.

Whether Shah and Modi realise it or not, Kejriwal could turn into a real headache for them, especially if the economy continues to tank and the BJP loses more state elections. Much depends on how smartly the AAP chief plays it but he has just shown that he can match and even outwit the BJP at its own game.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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