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Litmus test

Upcoming Delhi Assembly elections is all set to witness an interesting political battle

Litmus test

The election bugle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Mini India' has already been sounded. Nomination filing exercise is also over. Almost all political parties with stakes in Delhi polls have released the list of their respective star campaigners. But, the occupants of seats of power at the Centre, the so-called world's biggest political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party's star campaigner, PM Modi's election itinerary is yet to be announced. In 2014, prior to winning the Lok Sabha polls and forming the government at the Centre, the BJP had made their Prime Minister candidate Narendra Modi as the chief flag bearer of their poll campaign in state Assembly elections, especially in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. Since then and till the recently concluded Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha polls, PM Modi has played the role of BJP's chief star campaigner.

It may be recalled that while spearheading the campaign for his party during the previous Delhi Assembly polls, PM Modi had dubbed Delhi as 'Mini India.' With his assertion, Modi had declared that 'Mini India's' message goes out to the whole of the country. At that point of time, Modi had sought votes on the basis of seven months of his performance as the Prime Minister of India.

In spite of that, the BJP had to face a devastating defeat in Delhi polls. In 2013 Delhi assembly polls, the BJP had won 34 seats and had emerged as the single largest party. But, in the Delhi state elections held merely one-and-a-half years after the BJP formed a Modi-led government at the Centre, the BJP could win only three seats and even failed to qualify for the post of the leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha. It may be noted here that while addressing poll-related public meetings in Delhi, Modi had publicly mocked Congress party for having failed to even reach to a number in the Lok Sabha that would have made it eligible for the post of the Leader of Opposition.

In Delhi's previous Vidhan Sabha polls, after remaining under one year of President's rule, the Aam Aadmi Party was in the race for state polls for the second time while the party occupying the seat of power at the Centre had big stakes as it was desperate to return to power in the state of Delhi after being out of power for 16 years. Notably, Congress had already fallen out of the race in 2013 itself.

Coming into existence in the aftermath of 'Anna-Aandolan', the Aam Aadmi Party registered a stunning performance in its first-ever election for Delhi state polls of 2013. With 28 seats in its kitty, the Aam Aadmi Party under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal emerged as the second biggest group. With the sole aim of keeping the BJP out, the Congress extended support of all its nine members to Kejriwal so that AAP could form a government in its very first electoral endeavour. But, within 49 days Kejriwal and his council of ministers resigned and President rule was imposed. In the 2015 assembly polls, AAP registered a spectacular victory, winning 67 of the total 70 seats. The Congress failed to open its account while the BJP was restricted to merely 3 seats.

In the state Assembly polls now being held after five years, while the BJP is seeking votes on account of Modi-led government's performance at the Centre, Kejriwal-led AAP is asking for votes on the basis of the report card of its five-year performance. Congress also has stakes and has made the failure of Modi and Kejriwal as the crux of its poll campaign. Poll results will be out on February 11 and it would be only then decided whether the voters prefer a triple-engine-led government or a single engine-led government but one thing is certain that PM Modi's 'Mini India's' mandate will give a clear message to the whole nation.

While in the ongoing polls, the BJP is taking credit for the abrogation of Article 370 and enactment of Citizenship Amendment Act and repeatedly trumpeting rhymes of patriotism. Kejriwal has made the facilities provided by his government during his five-year term as his poll plank. To counter that, the BJP claims that Kejriwal is misleading the voters by distributing everything free. Kejriwal argues that by curbing corruption, the money that could be saved is being utilised for public benefits.

However, the issue of concern is why BJP's star campaigner PM Modi is not cutting the same appeal on the masses as he earlier enjoyed. In the recently held Assembly elections in a small state of Jharkhand, Modi had addressed nine poll-related rallies. He had asked the people to reelect a double-engine-led government. The result was the sitting Chief Minister lost his own seat. Electorates rejected the slogan of double-engine-led government and instead entrusted a regional party with the reigns of power. In real terms, it was a personal defeat of Modi, which, as of now, he is not conceding. But, within his own self, he may be aware that he will not be able to win Delhi state polls merely on the plank of his government's report card.

Therefore, like the previous time, it may not be relevant in the electoral battle in Delhi state. Although, just ahead of the announcement of State Assembly poll schedule, Modi tried to attract Delhi voters by announcing to regularise unauthorised colonies in Delhi. Only the results on Feb 11 will prove whether this move could yield electoral benefits for the party or not.

The outcome of Vidhan Sabha polls held in several states before the Lok Sabha elections has put a big question mark on the popularity graph of Modi. The chain of BJP's defeat started from the outcome of Karnataka State polls. In the state elections held in May 2018, the BJP could not repeat its Lok Sabha performance and fell far behind majority mark. To keep the BJP out of power, Janata Dal (S) and the Congress joined hands to form a coalition government in Karnataka. Although, subsequently, the coalition government fell after some time and the BJP managed to cobble together a majority figure to form its own government.

Just ahead of Lok Sabha elections, the outcome of state assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan had sent shock-waves to Modi. In all the three states, the BJP did not merely lose power. The outcome turned out to be a clear rejection of Modi's "Congress-free Bharat" slogan as in all three states Congress was reinstated to power. But, in the subsequent Lok Sabha elections, Modi magic continued to yield good results for the BJP and in all these three states, Congress was virtually wiped out in the Parliamentary elections. PM Modi returned to power with an increased margin although in the succeeding state assembly polls he has repeatedly faced defeats.

BJP has also been outpaced in the states of Maharashtra and Jharkhand. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, which was considered closest to BJP in terms of its thinking and ideology, snapped three-decades-old relations and firmed up ties with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to form a non-BJP alliance. Similarly in Haryana, the BJP, which had a majority government of its own failed to muster a halfway mark this time and had to strike an alliance with a regional party like the Jannayak Janta Party to hold on to power. It may be recalled that to give the polls a communal colour, PM Modi had made Pakistan the main theme of his poll campaign. He had promised during election campaigns that he will block the water flowing towards Pakistan. Despite this, the party failed to win its own majority.

Similarly, now in Delhi state polls, the BJP is trumpeting the enactment of CAA, NPR and NCR by their government which it claims are aimed at the condensation of the Hindu community. It has also struck an electoral pact with its Bihar ally, the Janata Dal (U) and the Lok Jan Shakti Party. Contrary to this, in the backdrop of the nationwide political situation, these allies are not on the same page with the BJP on the issue of CAA. Besides this, yet one another BJP ally the Punjab based Akali Dal has snapped ties with the BJP on the question of CAA. It may be recalled that in the by-election in Delhi, the BJP had won its fourth seat. It was Akali Dal's Manjinder Singh Sirsa who had won from Rajouri Garden seat by contesting on BJP's symbol. He, in a press conference, made it clear that there were differences with the BJP on account of CAA and the issue was not seat-sharing for snapping ties. "We are not in favour of keeping the Muslims out of CAA. Therefore it would not be possible to contest elections along with the BJP," Sirsa had said.

A sense of panic in the BJP camp could be ascertained from the recently held polls in Jharkhand state, adjacent to Bihar, where PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah-led BJP had clearly declined to spare any seat for these allies. Now, despite that, in the face of the prevailing political scenario, there appears to be no magic wand that may turn the table in favour of the BJP. That is because the BJP has made Modi's performance as the crux of its campaign. Therefore, in this backdrop, will a defeat of the BJP justify Modi's claim that 'Mini India's' poll outcome is a message for the whole country?

It will be a litmus test for Modi yet again in the forthcoming State Assembly polls lined up to be held till December 2022. He will face state polls in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Assam and in his home state of Gujarat. This phase would be furthermore relevant as PM Modi had assured housing to all his countrymen by 2022, the 75th year of Independence.

Views expressed are strictly personal

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