Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay absolves Modi or Shah of any responsibility for the capital debacle. However, he admits announcement of Bedi as CM candidate could have come earlier and negative campaigning avoided. This Idea Exchange was moderated by Apurva of The Indian Express.
Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay was among the few leaders from Delhi who were part of the party’s core election team for the Delhi Assembly. Upadhyay was brought in after Harsh Vardhan was made a union minister. But after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the AAP, Upadhyay faces an uphill task of shouldering responsibility for the party’s performance, explaining the defeat to the BJP leadership and reshaping the Delhi unit as an effective opposition to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal
Apurva: 67 and 3. What do you think went wrong for the BJP?
The results are unexpected, we never thought they would be like this. Perhaps we failed to understand the mood and the pulse of Delhiites. It is difficult to comprehend this kind of result. Definitely, we have to introspect what went wrong, what happened in the eight-nine months after we got all the seven seats in Delhi in the parliamentary elections.
Rakesh Sinha: Was it a good decision to name a chief ministerial candidate before the polls?
When you fail, then everything, all decisions, seem to be wrong. The party has done such experiments earlier—bringing in new people. But we feel if this needed to be done, it should have been done earlier. It is too short a time to connect with everybody. There is nothing wrong with the candidate, there is no analysis about the candidate. The chief ministerial candidate was good, she had all the credentials and a very good record, but maybe time was too short.
Rakesh Sinha: Didn’t you tell the central leadership this?
There was no time to react to all these things; now you can introspect and analyse what went wrong.
Apurva: Was the decision to bring Kiran Bedi into the party and make her the CM candidate late, or was its announcement late? Was there some thinking from before itself, in October when the Assembly was dissolved, or did the whole thing happen after mid January?
I think the decision should have been taken earlier.We did not benefit from the decision the way we should have.
Mayura Janwalkar: You are saying Kiran Bedi did not have enough time to connect with people. But did the rest of the Delhi BJP leaders have the time to connect or not?
It will take time to analyse the reasons—the Kiran Bedi decision, negative campaigning, the late announcement of candidates, etc—for what went wrong.
Sarah Hafeez: Do you also see the Delhi debacle as a sort of no-confidence motion against the Central leadership? Are
PM Narendra Modi’s development promises not visible on
I don’t think this mandate was against Modiji. I think in the last eight months, what they have done for Delhi, maybe that didn’t reach people properly. Whether it is the urban development ministry, home ministry, surface transport ministry or power ministry, they have done a lot for Delhiites, but their work could not reach the people to the extent it should have. Losing one election is not a mandate against Modiji, as we have won four previous state elections.
Delhi has a peculiar position, a different thought process, to gauge that is very difficult. Delhi has multiple problems, understanding the people is very difficult. The composition of Delhi has changed; it does not have anything of its own. I think it is not against Modiji. You have to account for so many factors, so many factions. Delhi has people from Poorvanchal, Uttarakhand, people from across India. All have different pockets, issues.
Pragya Kaushika: Whose idea was that upadravi gotra advertisement? And the Anna Hazare ad, where you had flowers around his neck? Who cleared the ads?
It was not a single person, a team took such decisions. If we avoided negative campaigning, it would have been good.
Pragya Kaushika: Do you think this hurt you in
This could be a reason, too much negative campaign is not at all good.
Pragya Kaushika: After the voting, you had a manthan baithak in which candidates were asked what they thought about their seat. Everyone came out happy saying they would win. Were they all wrong about their seats, or what they said inside was different from what they said outside?
It was only a review of the elections, to understand the ground situation and what the candidates thought. It is human nature, if so many candidates are sitting, nobody will say we are going to lose. It was just feedback, not exactly a manthan.
Bhawesh Mishra: You’ve been in politics in Delhi for 35 years and have worked up from the ground level. Do you feel there is no respect for people like you in the BJP? Other senior Delhi BJP leaders too were not informed about important decisions. And people who’ve been active for the last three-five years are holding important positions. Your state unit doesn’t enjoy privileges that other local party units do.
I don’t think we are not respected, or have no regard/importance. But since we are in the capital, where the central government and all senior leaders are, we cannot disregard their consent. They all are helping the state unit. I’m from a humble, middle-class family with no political background. It’s only possible in the BJP that I am the party president. What they have given me is the biggest honour.
Vandita Mishra: You said you need time to analyse what the BJP did wrong. But what did the AAP do right? What is it that you felt during elections they were doing better?
I don’t think it’s about doing better. I think the issue in Delhi, specially in slums and among the working class, is related to corruption by police. People felt that in 49 days, Arvind Kejriwal said there will be no corruption, that you do a sting operation, and the police stopped taking money. All of you know 49 days is a very short time to give any certificate for that. But the message they gave was successful. Next I think negative campaigning evoked sympathy among the people for a person who was the main target of that campaign. This is my personal thought, not party analysis. And election should not have been Kejriwal-centric from our side. A Kejriwal-centric campaign could have been avoided.
Unni Rajen Shanker: You said people of Delhi, especially in the lower strata, have a problem with police. Was it then wise to get an ex-police officer as CM candidate?
What you are saying is Kejriwal was successful in sending the message. You are right, maybe.
Pragya Kaushika: You even sent a letter, ‘please be united’.
That was normal. In each election, the president writes a letter to party workers asking them to do this and that. Journalists can read and interpret it differently, but it was not related to Mrs Bedi.
Harish Damodaran: You were wiped out in rural Delhi, your strength since the time of Sahib Singh Verma. Do you think it was because of the land ordinance or urea blackmarketing? Do you think it will impact other states?
I don’t think it will impact other states, but the kind of promises that have been made in rural areas, giving Wi-Fi to youth across Delhi, land reforms, full statehood, free water, free electricity, free education, free hospital facilities—these are all populist. In rural areas, we have lost our mandate. We need to analyse what went wrong. Now you can say Satish Upadhyay is president, so it is his fault. I take whole responsibility. It is (also) collective responsibility.
Seema Chishti: When non-Delhi BJP persons, including the PM and senior leaders, used words such as haramzaadon, bazaru etc in the campaign, did you feel that the culture of the Delhi BJP was not like this?
Delhi has its own culture and beauty, and with our words and language, we need to be careful. People in electoral politics should have been careful about that.
Seema Chishti: Were you
nervous when these things
When you are in a flow, you keep doing certain things. If something gets damaged, you repair it. You are going, the car gets punctured, you will repair it and move on. At that time you don’t think why it happened. But when you go forward, then you know. Words have an age, some get over then and there, others haunt you for a lifetime.
Pragya Kaushika: The Central leadership sent 120 MPs to campaign. Did that help or damage your campaign?
I would not call it damage. But it did not go down as deep as it should have. The feeling and intention were good.
Abantika Ghosh: During the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP built its campaign around its chaiwallah pitch, a common man who made it big. When that man wears a suit that costs R9-10 lakh, does it affect the party?
I don’t think that was an issue in the Delhi elections. It was an an issue
in some TV debates, but not in
Kaunain M Sheriff: The centre governed Delhi for eight-nine months during President’s rule. The centre said price rise would be controlled but Kejriwal countered that vegetable prices have increased. You talked about controlling corruption but your MCD is status-quoist. Don’t you think people also judged what you did in these months?
In these past months, many good things have happened. But we could not convey that to the people. People focused on the negative points. Issues such as those of unauthorised colonies in Delhi, the power reforms in Delhi… we could not deliver the message to the people. We are at fault in that regard. To say nothing was happening in the MCD is a matter of perception. Look at the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Has any PM introduced such a campaign in the past? It will take time but it will have an impact.
Muzamil Jaleel: Do you think the BJP’s arrogance or over-confidence contributed to its defeat?
I think arrogance—whether in
politics or otherwise—is always
Muzamil Jaleel: You had CM candidates in your party. What new thing was Bedi bringing to the table?
This is not a matter of personalities, it is a question of somebody leading. Kiran Bedi does not have anything negative about her. She has all the positives.
Muzamil Jaleel: What positives are you talking about?
She has a clean image and experience of being an administrator, and is a social worker… Being party president, ticket or no ticket is not a big thing.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: Since a large part of the Delhi campaign, the candidate selection and strategy, was decided by party president Amit Shah and guided by the prime minister, shouldn’t they own up for the defeat?
It was not guided by the national party president at all. It was the campaign committee that decided how the party would campaign. It had nothing to do with Modiji or the national president.
Rakesh Sinha: When the
party wins, the credit goes to Modi. So why must the loss be your responsibility?
As party president I am ready to take the blame for the defeat.
Rajgopal Singh*: There were VHP directives on women and attacks on churches. How far did the RSS contribute to your mandate?
The RSS has nothing to do with this. This election is a totally BJP concern.
Naveed Iqbal: Your next big challenge are the MCD elections. There people say they had been waiting for a BJP government for 15 years. Do you anticipate problems with the AAP government?
I would like to tell you a fact honestly. I am from the MCD. There may be problems within the organisation itself, but a lot of wrong perception has been created about the MCD too. The MCD has improved in many areas of delivery mechanism. If you want Delhi to be a world-class capital, you have to give MCD powers. Until the local bodies are strengthened, they cannot perform the way you want. There may be some wrong practices. In sanitation, for example, the appointment powers are with the Delhi government. Even if you need a gardener, you need the government’s permission. The corporation is bleeding. It is very easy to blame the MCD, but nothing is possible without resources. And the government is not a profit-and-loss company. It is a welfare state.
Seema Chishti:What is the party line on full statehood, which AAP has been talking about?
Delhi has a peculiar position. As the national capital, it has many issues. Like other states, can we give it statehood? That question is debatable. To demand it is very easy. But in practical terms, you realise it will not be easy. We have never shied away from granting statehood, but only after a debate. When you mention full statehood in the manifesto, you cannot give the details.
Apurva: Isn’t it worrying for the BJP that you managed to retain only your core vote, which means you haven’t been able to reach out to other sections?
It is a cause of concern for us. Our vote share should have increased.
Amrith Lal: Will the state BJP unit see restructuring?
Restructuring has just happened a few days ago. But the lower section requires a lot of changes. Our youth and women wings require some changes.
Unni Rajen Shanker: Now that the elections are over, what role will Kiran Bedi have in
She has to decide herself. She will decide how much time she would like to devote to the party.
Divya A: Kiran Bedi has said that fatwas led to her defeat in Krishna Nagar. Do you agree?
It is her personal thought. Fatwa
in any case should not be given in any election.
Transcribed by Vandana Kara &Debesh Banerjee