BJP’s defeat in Delhi may not mean anything in the Lok Sabha, but it’s intense attempt to polarize clearly didn’t work
It is foolhardy to project too much from the Delhi assembly elections, to believe that, after besting the BJP’s high-voltage communally-surcharged campaign, three-time Delhi-CM Arvind Kejriwal is now an alternative to prime minister Narendra Modi at the national level. Indeed, it is precisely this belief that was Kejriwal’s undoing in the past and his win, this time around, was essentially due to his keeping a low profile and just doing his job. The BJP tried its best to polarize the electorate with its desh ke gaddar, Kejriwal-is-a-terrorist, teach-the-tudke-tukde-gang-a-lesson, let-the-current-reach-Shaheen-Bagh and other such comments; if it wasn’t enough that home minister Amit Shah led the campaign from the front, even prime minister Modi spoke of how the protests at Jamia or Shaheen Bagh were an experiment, “a political design which intends to destroy the harmony of the country”. All those protesting against the CAA/NRC, including students in universities like JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia, were sought to be branded as terrorist-sympathisers and this was used to justify the Delhi police’s actions as well.
While BJP leaders tried to bait him and asked him to make public his stance on Shaheen Bagh, Kejriwal wisely, didn’t get into this discussion/trap, he just focused on bread-and-butter issues like education and health; if pushed to discuss CAA, he didn’t criticize it – there is a lesson for other politicians here – but converted it into a jobs-issue by asking how those being brought in would get jobs when there weren’t even enough for today’s citizens. While India faces an Islamist threat and illegal immigrants need to be dealt with, NRC is a blunt instrument that will only communally surcharge the atmosphere – since Hindus who can’t prove citizenship will be given this anyway – but opposing it is tricky as it can be twisted to mean you are soft on terror, so Kejriwal just focused on his own narrative just as, when faced with VP Singh’s mandal politics, Advani/Vajpayee focused on nurturing a pan-India Hindu identity.
Though the BJP got just seven seats as compared to the 45 that home minister Amit Shah said it would – and the 48 that Delhi party chief Manoj Tiwari spoke of – some argue the party has done better because its vote-share is up from 32% in 2015 to 39% now and its seats from 3 to 7; the Aam Aadmi Party’s vote share is down a bit from 54.3% to 53.6% in the same period and its seats fell from 67 to 64. But compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections where the BJP won 56.9% votes, it clearly lost vote-share! The point, however, is that assembly elections and parliamentary elections are very different and often go opposite ways, even within a very short while of one another. The BJP swept Delhi in the 2014 parliament election but AAP swept the Delhi assembly within a few months of this in 2015; Congress swept Karnataka assembly in 2013 but BJP swept the Lok Sabha in 2014 … The BJP losing assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in 2018, but then sweeping the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is seen as clinching evidence that, while the BJP may lose in certain states, there is no pan-India leader with Modi’s appeal; Rahul Gandhi and the continuing disarray in the Congress, no doubt, contribute to Modi’s image of being unassailable. But while the BJP remains confident in Modi’s leadership at the national level, perhaps the prime minister would also like to mull on what brought him to power in 2014, the lure of Hindutva or the promise of development to a nation of aspirers?