Delhi defeat is BJP's fourth successive state loss: Is there a lesson in it for PM Modi?

The BJP may have also harmed itself by its poisonous communalism which cannot but have put off some of the party’s own sensible supporters, not to mention the Left-Liberals, writes Amulya Ganguli for South Asia Monitor

Amulya Ganguli Feb 14, 2020
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Several weeks before polling day in Delhi, some of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) opponents used to say mockingly that the party’s slogan will be “abki baar teen paar”, meaning that the party will cross the number of three seats which it won five years ago.Although the BJP has managed to achieve this feat, it is not something of which the party will be proud, for its sole opponent in the national capital, the Aam Admi Party (AAP), has outrun the BJP by winning nearly as many seats as it did in 2015 when its tally was 67. Now, it is 62.

The AAP’s total out of 70 assembly seats will be widely regarded as a highly creditable achievement even if the party’s vote share has fallen by one percent from the 54 it secured on the last occasion. The BJP’s percentage has risen, however, by 8 percent from 2015’s 32 although it has dropped to 40 percent from 56.9 which it won in the 2019 parliamentary polls.

Both this steep fall from just a year ago and the single-digit seat tally of eight show that the BJP has fared extremely poorly in the election even after making a huge effort to win by fielding scores of Union ministers and chief ministers led by the redoubtable  Home Minister, Amit Shah. Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned on two occasions in the Union territory which ranks high in the hierarchy of national politics by being the nation’s capital.

The AAP, on the other hand, has undoubtedly consolidated its base among the Muslims although its patriotic slogans – Bharat Mata ki Jai, Vande Mataram – echo the BJP’s as does Kejriwal’s visits to the Hanuman temple to secure the deity’s blessings before the polls and to give thanks afterward. Kejriwal will claim, however, that his Hinduism is the true faith unlike the BJP’s false version, which incorporates anti-minority sentiments.
But it isn’t Kejriwal’s “soft” Hindutva, as some have said, which helped him to repeat his party’s overwhelming  2015 success, but his “kaam” (work) or record of governance in improving the conditions of government  schools and hospitals and providing cheap electricity. Just as the BJP’s welfare measures – houses, toilets, cooking gas, et al – helped the party at the national level, the AAP’s have done in Delhi.  

The AAP also carefully avoided falling into the BJP’s trap, set up with its vile rhetoric to lure the AAP into antagonizing  a section of the Hindus by supporting the Muslims of Shaheen Bagh or the agitating students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) who are portrayed by the BJP as seditionists – the so-called “tukde-tukde gang” who want to break up the country. The AAP also steered clear of the controversial police actions in Jamia Millia Islamia university, another potential subversive “Muslim” institution in the BJP’s view.

For the BJP, the defeat in Delhi is its fourth successive political setback in recent months when it failed to gain a majority in Haryana, was outfoxed by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and lost in Jharkhand. There is little doubt that the heavy defeat in Delhi will have an adverse impact on the BJP in the Bihar elections later this year. As has been suggested by an AAP spokesman, the BJP will face a tough fight if its opponents in Bihar, viz. the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress get their acts together.

In any event, it remains to be seen whether the BJP will continue the kind of vitriolic communal campaign which it did in Delhi when a federal minister called Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist and another minister urged his listeners at a rally to shoot the traitors. Amit Shah himself called upon the voters to press the buttons on the electronic voting machines so hard that the current gave an electric shock to the Muslim demonstrators in Shaheen Bagh, where they have organized a sit-in for nearly two months in protest against the citizenship laws.
Throughout the campaign, the BJP made it clear that the Shaheen Bagh protests were its pet peeve with an MP saying that the men from there will enter Hindu homes to rape and kill while a local leader compared the election to an India-Pakistan battle with the Muslim protesters and the AAP representing the latter.

Yet another minister saw Shaheen Bagh as a breeding ground of suicide bombers while a parliamentarian saw it as the precursor to a “Mughal raj”. If the BJP persists with such toxic communalism as its primary mode of campaign rhetoric when the Bihar elections are due, it will be seriously embarrassing its ally, the Janata Dal (United)’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

In any event, the Delhi outcome must have told him that anyone associated with the BJP has forfeited the votes of those whose dresses proclaim who they are, as Modi remarked on the Shaheen Bagh protesters. Nitish Kumar, therefore, must have become aware that he cannot expect the kind of support which he used to receive earlier from the Muslims, thereby handing the community over on a platter to the RJD, the Congress and his other opponents in the state.

Arguably, notwithstanding the AAP’s excellent performance, it might have made a clean sweep if Kejriwal hadn’t wasted the first three and a half years of his term calling his opponents names and fighting all and sundry, including Delhi’s two Lt. Governors and even staging a sit-in in Raj Niwas. It was only in the last one year and a half years that he sobered down and concentrated on governance, which has paid him handsome dividends.

The BJP may have also harmed itself by its poisonous communalism which cannot but have put off some of the party’s own sensible supporters, not to mention the Left-Liberals. Will the party now have a rethink on the hateful content of its rhetoric or will it look upon the eight percent rise in the vote share as a license to continue with more of the same?

While the BJP ponders over its next moves, the party which got the wooden spoon in Delhi was the Congress, India’s Grand Old Party, all of whose 67 candidates lost their deposits. Nowhere else is the 134-year-old party in such dire straits. It strains the imagination to assess what its next moves will be, either organizationally or in formulating political tactics.

If the Modi-Shah dispensation is failing to deliver for the BJP at the state level, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is faring no better unless the Congress plays second fiddle as in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. The Congress does have its own governments in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, but it has serious factional problems in the last two states. The party also collapsed before the BJP’s victory juggernaut last year in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In Delhi, the Congress has had no credible leader after three-time Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s death. The BJP, too, didn’t have a chief ministerial candidate, which was a disadvantage when facing a doughty chief minister like Kejriwal. But it could at least depend on the party’s national leaders as well as several chief ministers. 

However, the Congress’s national leaders and chief ministers stayed away. Did the party intend to help the AAP by not acting as a spoiler without saying so openly? For all practical purposes, therefore, Delhi will be a one-party Union territory for the next five years.

(The writer is a commentator on current affairs)

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