The dye has been cast and it’s not saffron. Not only has the BJP lost its first election since coming to power at the Centre in May last year, the Delhi verdict is its worst drubbing ever in the national capital. Even its chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi has lost from the Krishna Nagar constituency, a seat that the BJP has pocketed every time since 1993.
It is not too long back that the BJP was smirking at the Congress for not being able to install a Leader of Opposition because it had got less than 10% of the seats in the Lok Sabha; it looks like the story has come full circle in Delhi Assembly when BJP has been decimated to a similar extreme. Many feel it was time that Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine’s hubris was brought down a notch or two, other’s wanted to give Aam Admi Party a second chance.
The reasons for the mandate in Delhi are varied, but it is apparent that the BJP has shot itself in the foot for several reasons like the following:
1. The Timing of Elections: The BJP made the first vital mistake of not holding Delhi elections along with the General Elections last year. Had it done so, today’s verdict would have been an exact reverse. BJP would have won a landslide, considering the mood of the country last May. Even if it faltered then, holding Delhi elections along with those of Haryana and Maharashtra would have also yielded positive results. But for some strange reason the party chose to dilly-dally dissipating its own advantage and handing AAP crucial time to consolidate and refocus.
2. Delayed Start: Even after elections were announced, BJP’s house was in disarray. The party took forever to announce its candidates and no one really knew till quite late about who would be contesting and from where. This meant that the main BJP face from each seat made a deferred entry into the battleground, while AAP had declared its candidates way back in December, much before elections were even announced. This meant that each AAP candidate had sufficient time to canvass support and activate cadre to make direct connection with the voters.
3. Kiran Bedi As CM: When Kiran Bedi was brought in with much fanfare by Amit Shah as the person who would be leading the BJP campaign in Delhi, many felt it was a masterstroke by BJP’s 'Chanakya'. But the decision backfired and badly. A last minute announcement of CM candidate is always a bad idea and the BJP seems to have mastered the art of making the same mistake again and again. In 1998, when Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma were at the helm, BJP had propped Sushma Swaraj. In 2008, when Harsha Vardhan was the state chief, the party announced Vijay Kumar Malhotra’s candidature. In 2013, when Vijay Goel was the state chief, Harsha Vardhan was declared the chief ministerial candidate. What was worse, this time the BJP made Harsha Vardhan fight parliamentary elections rather than saving him for the assembly polls. Additionally, not only was Kiran Bedi propped up at the last minute, she was also an 'outsider' who was para-dropped much to the chagrin of those who have been associated with the party for years. Narendra Tandon’s quitting as Bedi’s campaign manager in public eye and then being assuaged by Amit Shah showed that the BJP house was in shambles. Besides, ticket distribution was a contentious process as far as BJP was concerned and several committed workers felt sidelined.
4. Minorities’ Backlash And Failure To Capture The Congress Vote Bank: The traditional Congress vote bank of minorities, Poorvanchalis, Dalits and JJ Colony residents knew well that their vote would be wasted on the Congress and so they conveniently sided with the Aam Admi Party this time instead. The call by the Shahi Imam of Delhi was an indication of things to come. Moreover, the recent spate of attacks on Churches shows that Modi has not been able to rein in radical elements in the party and its associated organisations. This polarised the minority vote against the BJP, while the lure of freebies by AAP caught the attention of the poorer sections. The idea of a tough cop running the show further intimidated those involved in petty businesses in their temporary but illegal shack shops selling kirana, paan etc.
5. Negative Campaigning: LK Advani and Vijay Kumar Malhotra learnt this lesson the hard way. Both indulged in extremely negative campaigns targeting Dr Manmohan Singh and Sheila Dikshit respectively and both lost the bigger battle. Yet, once again, BJP ran a personalised campaign targeting Arvind Kejriwal. With Narendra Modi joining the bandwagon of Kejriwal bashers, the people of Delhi started looking for answers on deliverables and sided with those who put something concrete on the table.
6. Bling Vs Aam Admi: Symbolically, the Delhi election became a contest between the have nots and the middle classes versus the elite. Kejriwal with his two alternating pullovers – one red and the other grey - along with his trademark muffler played to the galleries, even as the BJP national top guns arrived in swish cars and discussed strategies in 5 star hotels. The recent suit that Modi wore during Obama’s visit and whose price tag of Rs 10 lakhs was bandied about more in a metaphorical context portrayed BJP as elitist. Somewhere it was a message that AAP was able to capitalize and drive home.
7. Defeatist Attitude: When Amit Shah and the BJP repeatedly parroted that an adverse verdict would not be a mandate on Modi, the common man on the streets of the national capital figured that the BJP was going to lose and it knew of this already. The BJP seemed to have thrown in the towel already and this demoralised an already dispirited and divided BJP cadre.
It would not be incorrect to say that in many ways BJP is the cause of its own defeat and it brought such an ignominious outcome on to itself. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who were the architects of BJP’s historic wins at the national level and then in Maharashtra and Haryana, need to come to terms with the stark realization that the Modi wave that they unleashed has been halted, and in what a manner – AAP has pulled off an unprecedented victory with a historic margin. The duo would need to wear their thinking caps and get down to delivering what Modi has aggressively been marketing in his numerous speeches.
In the meanwhile, the man of the moment, Arvind Kejriwal - he too would be wise in learning the same truth sooner than later – that successful campaigns can be run on promises only for so much time, and that delivering on promises on the ground is what matters the most eventually. But for the moment, he can savour the thought of sitting in the front row on January 26 and watching the military parade with Kiran Bedi nowhere in sight!