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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Rhetoric over CAA bound to lose middle of the road voters

One can only guess that the ideologues of the BJP are not interested in winning Delhi but in cementing the core Hindu vote and then similarly across India to launch the Hindu Rashtra. Will it work?

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: February 2, 2020 11:25:35 am
Delhi Election BJP hate campaign, BJP Shaheen Bagh Delhi elections, Anurag Thakur BJP hate speech, Indian Express news Anurag Thakur has raised the stakes by naming all against the BJP as traitors deserving to be shot.

Boasting is usually a sign of lack of confidence. Facing the forthcoming elections in Delhi, some BJP leaders have lost control over their rhetoric. Delhi is only a tiny Union Territory sending seven members to the Lok Sabha and has seventy members in its Assembly. But one leader sees the election as a battle between India and Pakistan. Several peaceful, unarmed women sitting in Shaheen Bagh have shaken the BJP. Anurag Thakur whom I regarded as one of the better new BJP leaders has raised the stakes by naming all against the BJP as traitors deserving to be shot.

The Election Commission has read the Riot Act. For me, these statements reveal the nervous funk the BJP has got into. As it is, they lost Delhi five years ago, the first defeat suffered under the Modi banner when he was thought unbeatable. The 67/3 balance left no doubt as to who the Delhiites preferred in 2015. This time around, it would be a multiple miracle if the BJP turned the tables and got a majority. The Aam Aadmi Party delivered good governance once Kejriwal gave up the earlier theatrics. The aggressive campaigning is a clear sign that the BJP hates him and cannot contemplate losing any contest to Kejriwal.

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But then the three state elections held since May 2019 have turned out badly for the ruling party. In each of them, the BJP stood on national issues not local ones. There seems to be no learning from experience. In Delhi again, it is the national issues which have been rushed forward and drive the rhetoric. Supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act are good, while protesters are Pakistan lovers! The only local promise seems to be of Centre investing in Delhi. Does this imply that Centre won’t help Kejriwal if he is chosen? Kejriwal has introduced free bus rides for women, mohalla clinics and good schools formula which Delhi citizens have liked.

The logic behind this strategy is hard to fathom. It must be by implication that on local domestic issues, the BJP has nothing to offer which the AAP cannot. After all, welfare issues are common across people of all religions, regions and culture. Members of the Central Cabinet again fronted the release of the BJP Manifesto. Only Modi matters is the basic idea. In 2015, projecting Modi alone and keeping all other names and issues unmentioned did not help the BJP. So why repeat a failed formula?

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One can only guess that the ideologues of the BJP are not interested in winning Delhi but in cementing the core Hindu vote and then similarly across India to launch the Hindu Rashtra. Will it work?

Modi 1.0 had spread the BJP net much wider than Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani. Hence his success in 2014. The 40 per cent electoral support that Modi won in May 2019 was not all Rashtravadi Hindus but included aspirational voters who only wish the government to deliver growth and welfare. The rhetoric over CAA is bound to lose these middle of the road voters. Add lack of growth and the mixture becomes toxic. This looks like a vote losing strategy.

This article first appeared in the print edition on February 2, 2020 under the title ‘Delhi difficulties’.

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