For the BJP, which won a record majority in the general elections barely nine months ago, the verdict in Delhi Tuesday joins the string of electoral outcomes that have fallen much below its expectations.
The outcome for the BJP-led alliances in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi indicate a trend of diminishing political returns for the BJP’s hard ideological agenda given how the party has aggressively marketed abrogation of Article 370 and splitting Jammu and Kashmir (during the Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections), the Ram temple (Jharkhand elections) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (Delhi elections).
Indeed, the BJP, which had secured majority in 65 of the 70 Assembly seats in the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi nine months ago, was optimistic that the Centre’s decision to clear regularisation of unauthorised colonies in the national capital — a move that could benefit 40-50 lakh people — could be the “game changer” it needed to take on AAP.
But when the BJP campaign, led by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, began three weeks ago, the focus soon shifted from unauthorised colonies and Central schemes such as Ayushman Bharat to the anti-CAA protests with the attack focused on Shaheen Bagh where women have been sitting on an agitation for almost two months.
Internally, the party was confident the script was working — its own surveys suggested the shrill campaign would help get fence-sitters switch to BJP’s side and just days before voting, Shah himself said the party would cross 45 seats.
The BJP held 6,577 public meetings over the past month, including 52 road shows and public meetings by Shah. In around 30 speeches, he urged people to press the lotus button on the EVM so hard that its “current” would be felt at Shaheen Bagh forcing protesters to leave. A similar messaging went out from the rest of the leaders, with BJP MP Parvesh Saheb Singh calling the Chief Minister a terrorist; Union Minister Anurag Thakur chanting “Desh ke gaddaron ko…” as people responded “Goli maaro saalo ko…; Uttar Pradesh CM saying Arvind Kejriwal was feeding protesters biryani; and Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting a conspiracy was afoot to disturb peace in the country.
Clearly, these failed to strike a resonant chord with many voters.
Party leaders admitted that the Delhi results came as a “big shock” as they expected at least 20-25 seats. “We needed a victory to show that there is an approval of the major legislative initiatives we have taken. A better performance was essential for us to face criticism on different issues — not just on the citizenship laws, but also on economic issues,” said a senior party MP.
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BJP sources said that Delhi verdict is yet another confirmation for the voters’ message since the Lok Sabha results – that they distinguish between their choice for the state and the Centre. In Odisha, which went to polls simultaneously with the Lok Sabha in which the BJP won eight of the 21 seats in the Lok Sabha with 38.4 per cent votes but could manage only 23 of 147 seats (32.5 per cent). Similarly, the BJP which won 11 of the 14 seats in Jharkhand in the Lok Sabha polls could not retain power in the Assembly in elections held six months after.
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For all the BJP campaigners’ underlining of how Jammu and Kashmir had been stripped of its special status, the party could not win the Rewari Assembly segment in Ahirwal region in Haryana known for its large representation in the armed forces. The BJP also slipped in Nagpur region despite their electoral pitch on Article 370. Likewise, addressing a poll rally in Jamtara (Jharkhand), Yogi Adityanath had told voters that a victory for Congress candidate Irfan Ansari would not add to the cause of building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Irfan Ansari won by about 40,000 votes.
These anecdotal examples apart, the BJP-Sena alliance last year won 29 seats less than what they won contesting separately in 2014. The BJP slipped below the halfway mark in Haryana this time and had to forge a post-poll alliance to form a government while most of its top ministers and state unit chief lost their own seats despite their historic majority in 2014. In Jharkhand, too, the BJP not only lost power but its Chief Minister could not retain his seat despite having run the first full-term government since 2014.
Shah has not yet reacted to the verdict.
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BJP’s failure to make a dent in Delhi could have an impact on the upcoming elections for the party — it may give more elbow room for its ally in Bihar in its bargaining in seat-sharing and the BJP may have to re-calibrate its strategy in West Bengal. Elections in Bihar are due later this year and West Bengal goes to the polls next year.
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