Why the Delhi Assembly Elections were not a referendum on PM Narendra Modi

Politics is like sports. It’s a great leveller. And politics is also an arena, akin to sports, where the victor will become vanquished one day and vice versa. Thus, no party can hope to win always and likewise, one never knows when a political party’s fortunes will turn around.

This was nowhere more evident in recent times than in the recently-concluded Delhi Assembly Elections in which Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), formed a little over two years ago, won handsomely, bagging an unimaginable 67 seats in the 70-member Assembly, leaving only three for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and zero for the Congress.

It was the same BJP which had created history by winning majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and had continued the winning streak subsequently by bagging Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and ending up with best ever figures in J&K. It was also the same AAP, which after surprising everyone in 2013 Delhi Assembly Elections by winning 28 seats, had bitten the dust, ending up with a mere four seats in the 2014 General Elections.

But life turned a full circle for AAP on February 10, when it rose from the ashes by capturing Delhi after being written off by certain quarters. Life also turned the wrong way for the BJP which got a rude shock as the counting of votes for Delhi polls unfolded.

Predictably, the political discourse in the country, after hailing the stupendous win by AAP, veered to the following - That the people of Delhi had chosen to go with Kejriwal despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally leading BJP’s charge which indicated that the ‘Modi magic’ was waning. That the results in Delhi polls were a kind of a referendum on PM Modi as he had held six rallies in the national capital and sought votes in his name. That the Delhi election was a mandate against the eight odd months of the BJP-led NDA government as it was not delivering what it had promised to the people. That the invincibility of Modi had been exposed and the juggernaut of BJP had been halted, and that the Delhi polls would have an impact on the upcoming Assembly Elections in other states.

The PM did campaign in full flow taking on AAP and Kejriwal, and urged people to vote for his party to make Delhi a world-class city. So, to a certain extent, it can be said that the appeal of Modi did not work in the national capital and the voters decided to give Kejriwal one more chance. It can also be said that when credit was given to Modi’s charisma and his ability to connect with the voters for BJP’s earlier successes, a fair share of the blame should be given to the PM for the Delhi debacle.

However, to say that the BJP’s march has been halted, that the mandate was due to the non-performance of the NDA government and that the Modi’s appeal among voters is over means one can't see the wood for the trees. In actuality, the truth lies somewhere in between.

The BJP did lose badly in Delhi and it may serve as a wake-up call to them and they definitely need to introspect and make amends. But the loss was not because Modi’s appeal did not work in Delhi or because the NDA government failed to perform. Modi is still one of the most popular leaders in India and people are still willing to give the NDA government some more time to deliver, as some opinion polls have shown.

Infighting in the BJP, paratrooping a CM candidate at the last minute, keeping Delhi under President’s Rule for a year, not being able to connect with the voters like AAP, running a negative campaign, among others, are some of the factors that went against the saffron party.

And, if tomorrow the BJP does well in, let’s say, Bihar or Goa, then will the same people say that the magic or the invincibility of Modi is back? Will the same people then once again hail BJP president Amit Shah as a master strategist?

Also, where was the so-called anti-incumbency against the Modi-led NDA government when the BJP won Jharkhand Assembly Elections and emerged as the second largest party in J&K only some time back? Delhi elections were fought on local issues and factors which worked here may not work in, let’s say, Uttar Pradesh or for that matter West Bengal.

In electoral politics, taking on an enemy when the chips are down is part of the game. So, it was not surprising to see opponents of the BJP, like the Congress, TMC, JD(U), SP and others taking potshots at the party after the Delhi results. After all, BJP is to them what Indira Gandhi’s Congress was to the Opposition in the 70s. It is the party to beat and understandably, Modi’s rivals are restless at the successes of the BJP in states where it was never a major player. And Delhi results may have infused them with much-needed energy and given them hope.

As far as the BJP is concerned, it needs to stop depending too much on Modi's personality to win elections everywhere. The need of the hour is to connect with the masses and promote regional leaders who can take the party forward in their respective states.

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