Millennium Post

Is BJP nervous about Delhi polls?

Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to pip the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi assembly elections, doubts remain about the margin of victory.

In the last assembly elections the BJP had won more seats than AAP, although it fell short of the half-way mark in the 70-member legislature. In the forthcoming contest, therefore, the BJP’s first wish will be to win at least 35 seats. Its combative president Amit Shah, however, has predicted success in two-thirds of the seats.

Considering how his much-vaunted “Mission 44” came a cropper in Jammu and Kashmir, his latest boast is likely to be seen as a case of whistling in the dark. AAP will be no pushover this poll season. It is this expectation of a party led by an “anarchist” that is giving the BJP a run for its money. AAP’s recent momentum has induced the BJP to roll out its big guns.

Apart from seven or eight cabinet ministers, a large number of parliamentarians have been drafted by the party to campaign during the run-up to polling on February 7. Besides, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s friend, philosopher and guide, has decided to depute its workers for field work.

To the uninitiated, all this effort might seem unnecessary. After all, the BJP is led by arguably the most popular prime minister the country has seen since the first three years of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, before the Bofors howitzer scandal.

In contrast, the AAP, though it came second in the last election with 28 seats against the BJP’s 32, is still a novice in the political arena, with a muddled ideology and an organisational base comprising of enthusiastic amateurs. It has also experienced high-profile desertions from its ranks like the ebullient Shazia Ilmi. Moreover AAP and especially its voluble leader, Arvind Kejriwal, are yet to get over the opprobrium and ridicule it suffered for having “run away” after 49 days in office.

Notwithstanding these handicaps, the AAP’s seeming advantage is that it enjoys the backing of the urban poor and the minorities. If the former, comprising the lower middle class and those living in slums or jhuggi-jhopri clusters are impressed by Kejriwal’s anti-establishment rhetoric, which substantiates their own experience of police high-handedness and bureaucratic indifference, religious minorities have been unnerved by the communal agenda of the Hindutva fundamentalists.

To these groups, the AAP remains the only hope in the absence of the Congress, which is expected to finish a poor third. However, the reported observation of a BJP minister that he wished that the Congress wasn’t so weak betrayed a sign of fear. On certain lines, it showed how eagerly a nervous BJP was hoping for the Grand Old Party of yore to cut into the AAP’s votes.

What the BJP’s angst shows, however, is its realisation that elections in Delhi will be a great deal more important than the earlier state assembly elections. Unlike its failure to get a majority on its own in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, a similar situation in Delhi - or even a narrow majority - will show that the party cannot always bank on Modi’s popularity.

It will confirm yet again that the BJP’s Lok Sabha success was solely the result of a positive popular response to Modi’s pitch for development. Without him, the party is a ‘kati patang’, or a drifting kite. Moreover, an unsatisfactory performance by the BJP will also show that it tends to stumble in the face of a stiff challenge.

On the other side of the fence, even if the AAP finishes a close second and is unable to form a government, its ability to survive for five years in the wilderness will remain shrouded in doubt. As it is, the AAP’s good showing in the winter of 2013-14 was the result of the Congress’s precipitous decline, following allegations of inept governance at the Centre and corruption charges.

To survive for a prolonged period in the absence of these two factors- ineptness and sleaze of its opponents - will not be easy for an organisation, which thrives on hype verging on the outrageous. Statements such as telling voters to accept bribes from the BJP and the Congress, but vote only for AAP, are examples of that very hype.

However, no party will suffer more than the Congress if it fails even to cross the eight seats it won in 2013. This outcome was something of a surprise because even BJP MP Chandan Mitra said that the Sheila Dixit government was not too bad, so far as governance was concerned. Dikshit, however, paid the price of the anger which the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh dispensation had aroused. IANS

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