As defeats go, this has to be the most comprehensive and the most humiliating for the BJP. It has lost the classes and the masses in Delhi. Neither the politics of communal polarization and caste games nor the grand rhetoric on development worked. All those dirty and below the belt attacks haven’t worked either. Its leadership, upon which the party prided itself, has just been delivered the royal snub by the people.
In India people vote mostly to punish the incumbent government. Bigger the public anger, worse is the defeat. In Delhi the BJP was in power by default. From the reaction across the board post the results, from both voters and non-voters, it is evident that most wanted the BJP to lose more than the AAP to win. The party would be loathe to admit this, but this indeed was a referendum on the performance of the central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The magnitude of the BJP’s defeat would take time to sink in, but the message is unambiguous. The party’s grace period has ended. People have sent it a curt reminder: stop giving gyaan, we are not idiots. You are in because we wanted a hopelessly corrupt and pathetic UPA to go. You start delivering or else…It depends how the BJP recalibrates its strategy from here on. But it has to remember a ruling party has to be much more than an election-winning machine.
Election defeats and wins as well are rarely due to one singular factor - a combination of several factors, both local and external, shape an electoral verdict. The wave elections, which are getting more frequent across the country now, blur all traditional calculations and perceived equations, including that of caste, class and identity. The Delhi verdict reveals the frustration of people goes much beyond the local. It has dimensions that deeply involve the central government too.
The public perception is slowly turning against the BJP. This election defeat may not harm it much, but it certainly sends out the warning message that henceforth all electoral battles will be on a footing of equality with other parties. It has squandered the popular goodwill that has been tilting contests in its favour so far.
So how did the BJP lose the way it did? Here are some reasons.
1. There’s a growing perception that the government at the centre is a hopelessly attention-seeking one. It has got into the habit of trying to ‘impress’ too much. This is overbearing but would still be fine if it matched achievements on the ground. Seven months on and the gap between promise and delivery remains poor. This has not stopped the party from making every small development a big media event. People can see through this.
2. The leader of the government is increasing coming across as a self-obsessed individual busy proving to the world his personal popularity. He wants to be counted among the big league of national icons too soon. That would not be a problem if the effort was subtle and nuanced, and there’s substance to match. Nothing has been subtle about him so far – a dress with one’s name written all over does not particularly convey the right signals – and his promises are yet to materilise on the ground.
3. The underclass has hit back in Delhi. If it feels alienated under the current dispensation the BJP has to blame its own outlook towards the economy or at least the message it has been conveying. It, egged on by cheerleaders in the ‘expert’ brotherhood, has been following an economic policy that is cynical as well as perverse. To be fair, both Prime Minister Modi and the BJP have been sober and balanced in their views on the economy but the government is being seen increasingly as anti-poor and pro-rich. The backlash was expected at some point. As the government pushes ahead with its economic agenda, the coming days would be interesting.
4. The victory of 2014, was never a victory for the Hindutva ideology. The BJP was a purely secular choice. They did not vote the RSS and its affiliates into power. But the latter took the mandate as license to Hinduise the country. The normal Hindu society abhors social disharmony. Thus it does not approve of burning of churches and attacks on Muslims. The government's silence on the activities of the Hindutva forces has only made it look as a partner in crime.
Dictatorial control over a democratic political party does not work, it can be counterproductive. Victory alone cannot justify shabby treatment to party workers by way of induction of outsiders. The Kiran Bedi move was a disaster and this was done to show the local leadership their place. A rebellion was waiting to happen and it was a passive one in Delhi. The results show not even the faithful stood by the party. Never undervalue your own, should be the lesson for the party. They can and will strike back. If the organization decides to go apathetic, the leadership, howsoever charismatic can do little.
The BJP promised good governance. But matters other than governance have been dominating the public consciousness ever since it came to power. Complacent after a series of assembly victories, perhaps the party ignored these. After the Delhi defeat it cannot be afford to do so. The final message it can take from the elections: never underestimate the common man.