BJP reluctant to face polls
The BJP’s friends such as the RSS have been advising it against trying to form a government in Delhi with the help of defectors from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress, but the saffron outfit’s initial reluctance to go for fresh polls is worth analysing.
Is the BJP uneasy about facing the voters? Ostensibly, it has no reason for misgivings because it won all the seven Lok Sabha seats in the May elections, which meant that it came out on top in 60 of the 70 assembly segments. There is little doubt, therefore, that it will have a sweeping success if the polls are held now. Why, then, has it shown an interest in sneaking in by the back door despite the harm it will cause to its reputation?
It is possible that the BJP believes that like all waves, the Modi wave, too, has started receding. As a result, the party may not be able to replicate last summer’s outcome. But, it cannot believe that it will be unable to gain a majority considering that both of its two major opponents have suffered serious reverses since last year’s assembly elections in Delhi.
While the Congress is in obvious bad shape, the AAP has clearly lost much of its earlier sheen. Not only have a few stalwarts left the party like Capt. G R Gopinath and Shazia Ilmi, its poor showing in the last parliamentary polls confirmed that the general public has become disillusioned with it because of its seemingly inherent maverick nature. To most people, its leaders represent a group of pompous loudmouths who cannot be taken seriously, as their desertion of the office of responsibility after 49 days in power showed. It is clearly a party which believes more in nautanki (theatrics) than in governance. There isn’t much chance, therefore, that the AAP will be able to repeat its feat of winning 28 of the 70 seats this time as it did on the last occasion.
If the BJP has still been reluctant to take the plunge, the reason is the doubt in its own mind about the durability of the Modi wave. It also probably believes that if the party falls short of its success in 60 assembly segments only a few months after the Lok Sabha elections, then the slight setback may be interpreted as a sign that the surge in its favour has passed its peak. As it is, the BJP was taken aback by its own success. The party never seriously believed that it would be able to secure a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. Besides, the party cannot be unaware that its unexpected triumph was the result of the Congress’s ignominious collapse under an inept leadership rather than any specific achievement of a party which was derided by one of its own supporters as a kati patang
(a loose, floating kite) after its 2009 defeat.
Furthermore, the fact that the BJP received no more than 31 per cent of the votes at the national level showed that two-thirds of the country voted against it. It had no presence in states like Tamil Nadu, where the ruling AIADMK won 37 of the 39 seats, Odisha, where the ruling Biju Janata Dal won 20 of the 21 seats, and West Bengal, where the ruling Trinamool Congress won 34 of the 42 seats although the BJP did increase its vote share in the state from a lowly six per cent to a respectable 17 per cent.
Among the other major states, the BJP drew a blank in Kerala’s 20 parliamentary constituencies, showing that its claim to be a national party is based on its good showing only in northern and western India. What this means is that the party is wary about a slippage, however little, in a supposed stronghold like Delhi lest it should affect its overall image and breathe life into the currently demoralised Congress.
The BJP is also not sure about the extent to which its reforms measures – higher railway fares and fuel charges – and promises to enact new labour and land acquisition laws ostensibly favouring the corporate sector will affect its electoral prospects in a country where businessmen do not have a shining image. At the same time, it cannot backtrack on any of these measures in case it alienates its middle class base of support. Hence, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s assertion about pursuing both pro-poor and pro-business policies.
In a way, the pre-poll hype about achhe din has trapped the party because it is aware that the promised good days can only come if the bitter medicine, which the prime minister said was necessary to revive the economy, is first administered to the people. But, the prescription may not be widely appreciated, especially because the critics will lose no opportunity to exploit any sense of popular grievance.