AAP strolls to win as BJP's polarisation bid fails; voters bucking national trend yet again should make saffron party introspect

  • BJP’s record in state elections now looks distinctly iffy. Just before 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it lost three states to Congress

  • If current trends hold towards the end of the year, the Bihar elections could be decided by local issues

  • it is difficult to see any wisdom or propriety in the spectacle of a BJP MP calling Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist

Though a stroll in the park for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was expected, with exit polls predicting it would win between 44 and 68 seats, the fact that it has, in fact, won over 60 of the legislative Assembly’s 70 seats (63 at the time of writing), reducing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a single-digit tally (seven) for a second successive time, doesn’t bode well for the party governing at the Centre.

BJP’s record in state elections now looks distinctly iffy. Just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it lost three states — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — to the Congress. It stormed back in 2019 cashing in on the issue of national security, which gained salience after the Pulwama attack and India’s bombing of Balakot. This added a nationalistic constituency to the party’s core Hindutva base and helped it cross the 300 mark in the Lok Sabha.

 AAP strolls to win as BJPs polarisation bid fails; voters bucking national trend yet again should make saffron party introspect

File photo of JP Nadda. Twitter/@BJP4India

Since then, it has turned in below par electoral performances in Haryana and Maharashtra, before being trounced in Jharkhand by the alliance of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which won 48 of 81 seats.

The only takeaway for the BJP was that it was the single-largest party in Haryana and Maharashtra. But even in that round of elections, its fortunes were mixed.

In Haryana, it swiftly moved to organise a coalition with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), which had explicitly contested against it, and formed a government. But in Maharashtra, the BJP’s pre-election (and oldest) ally, the Shiv Sena fell out with it, walked out of the alliance and formed a government with the NCP and the Congress.

This was the backdrop to the Delhi elections. Before proceeding, it must be noted that though in terms of numbers the Delhi Assembly is small and though the Delhi administration does not have all the powers of one in a full state, the fact that it is the National Capital gives its Assembly and the elections to it a disproportionate importance.

The Delhi election throws up several conclusions. For one, it reinforces an electoral trend that has seen voters buck the national trend and vice-versa. In 2019, they bucked the trend of the end-of-the-year elections in 2018, to give the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a huge mandate. In 2019, and now in four elections, they have bucked the 2019 national mandate to severely erode the BJP’s numbers.

The BJP might claim that it was the largest party in Haryana and Maharashtra, but its tallies were well below its own projections in both states as well as well below the Assembly segment tallies in all four states if we were to look at the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

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One big reason for the losses in Jharkhand and Delhi, where it had won all seven Lok Sabha seats and led in 65 of the 70 Assembly segments, was that the national security issue didn’t have much traction. The same can be said of the Haryana and Maharashtra elections. In Delhi, the BJP didn’t seem to have factored that in when it hit the campaign trail. It persisted with rhetoric fashioned around the threat posed by Pakistan to consolidate an ultra-nationalist constituency.

It did something else that is connected. In the fortnight or so leading up to the elections, it tried to paint the protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, and National Register of Citizens (NRC), especially the gathering at Shaheen Bagh, as a traitorous fifth column. In addition, it tried to paint the Congress and AAP as ‘anti-national’, the catch-all characterisation the BJP uses to tar all parties and people who do not agree with its ideology.

Whatever the compulsions, it is difficult to see any wisdom or propriety in the spectacle of a BJP MP calling Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal a ‘terrorist’.

This unfortunately also involved mounting a highly divisive campaign aimed at maligning the Muslim section of the electorate as a fifth column and polarising the electorate in relation to the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protest. Thus, for instance, ‘aazadi’, one of the refrains used by the protesters, was taken out of context, twisted and interpreted as an anti-national slogan, despite the fact that pride of place was given to nationalist symbols – the Tricolour, the anthem and the Constitution – at all demonstrations.

In addition, one minister and a candidate for the Delhi election, who incidentally lost, unconscionably led chants saying ‘shoot the traitors’, while MP Parvesh Verma said at a rally, "Lakhs of people gather there (Shaheen Bagh). … They'll enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, and kill them."

Despite being penalised by the Election Commission, he was rewarded by being chosen to move the vote of thanks to the President’s address in the ongoing Budget Session of the Lok Sabha.

This kind of viciousness was perhaps not expected from a party governing the country.

With Union Home Minister Amit Shah leading the charge, the Delhi elections saw a number of BJP chief ministers campaigning alongside a large number of Union ministers and MPs and significant resources being channeled into the campaign. This, combined with the kind of campaign the BJP ran, increased the party’s vote share by eight percentage points.

But since the electorate was polarised, the AAP held on to its vote share. The Congress lost vote share to settle at under five percent of the vote. This meant that AAP secured well in excess of 50 percent of the vote and nailed down a resounding victory.

Given the fact that AAP campaigned exclusively on performance and development, the BJP will have to rethink its strategy of polarisation, especially given the fact that facing a more mixed electorate in Jharkhand it lost 12 seats, while the alliance gained 23.

Over the next year and a bit, Assembly elections will be held in some big states: Possibly in October or November in Bihar; and in Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu possibly next April or May. The BJP doesn’t have much of a stake in the Tamil Nadu elections, but it has significant ones in the three other states. The dynamic of the Assam elections could be dictated largely by the CAA/NRC issue, which will also play a big role in Bengal.

If current trends hold towards the end of the year, the Bihar elections could be decided by local and ‘bread-and-butter’ issues. The BJP/NDA will have to work around that, while the Delhi elections will give the ‘Opposition’ a boost.

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Updated Date: Feb 12, 2020 11:47:57 IST