The Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest against CAA-NRC became one of the main election planks of the BJP in the Delhi election, with party leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah, referring derisively to the protest in every election meeting. Such was the obsession of the BJP with Shaheen Bagh that in the last two weeks of campaigning, not a day might have passed without some BJP leader or the other referring to the protest in their election speeches.
The Lokniti election-eve survey conducted in the final week of campaigning found that while the issue may have resonated to some extent among a section of voters, particularly some OBC and upper caste Hindus, and may have ended up contributing marginally (a percentage or two) to the BJP alliance’s overall vote share of 39.8%, the polarisation on the issue was clearly not as much as the BJP was openly hoping for.
The survey found nearly four-fifths (79%) of the voters to be aware of the protest and 41% of them expressed a preference for BJP, a percentage point higher than the alliance’s overall vote share. Among the one-fifths (21%) not aware, the BJP alliance got around 36% votes according to the survey. The AAP on the other hand did slightly worse among those who knew about the Shaheen Bagh protest. While it secured 53% among those aware of the protest, its vote share among those not aware of it was 3 points higher at 56%. It is important to stress here that the BJP has traditionally done better than other parties among those who are more exposed to electronic, print and social media, and it could well be that this slight advantage it got among those aware of Shaheen Bagh was on account of that.
That being said, we did notice a religious divide with respect to awareness about the protest and the impact it may have had on voting choices. Among Hindus, awareness about the protest was found to be 76% and among Muslims, 95%. While Muslims voted for AAP irrespective of whether or not they knew about Shaheen Bagh, among Hindus who were aware of Shaheen Bagh, BJP got 10 points greater support than those unaware of it. This gap was most pronounced among Hindu OBC communities, but, significantly, it was completely absent among the Scheduled Castes who consolidated en masse behind the AAP.
In the end, BJP led AAP by only 3 percentage points among Hindus aware of Shaheen Bagh protest. This almost neck and neck battle among such Hindus was clearly not enough for the BJP to challenge the dominance of AAP in the national capital and only won it a few additional seats than last time. Not only that, the BJP’s divisive campaign consolidated the Muslims behind the AAP, who may have otherwise split their vote between Congress and AAP. Had BJP concentrated its energy more on governance related issues, it may have ended up with a higher seat tally as opposed to what it got through its current campaign. The Shaheen Bagh strategy was perhaps devised by BJP to avert a humiliation worse than 2015. It may have worked to some extent, but in the bargain, the party ended up sullying its image.
(The author is associated with Lokniti-CSDS)