BJP has suffered the most disgraceful electoral defeat it had ever had in its political history in Delhi in the elections to the Legislative Assembly in February 2015. Even though it may draw some consolation in almost retaining its earlier support base from 2013, it is pertinent to analyse dispassionately and without partisanship the reasons for such a massive debacle particularly in the face of a challenge from a novice and naïve politician, though a shrewd and conning campaigner, and a good manipulator and manager of politics and media. Why is it that the BJP that was being projected by the media and the psephologists inside and outside as a clear winner, lost the election finally?
Time for AAP to reorganise and for BJP to be in disarray
Delhi gave a huge mandate to BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in May 2014 and Kejriwal and his coterie not only lost but was rendered irrelevant and discredited in so far as the politics in Delhi was concerned. However, BJP missed the bus by not accepting the demand of the AAP to hold fresh elections in 2014 itself. It had hurt the party in two ways: one it was painted successfully by the AAP as party was afraid of facing the elections, as it lacked the confidence to defeat the AAP. It was also able to paint BJP as one interested in forming the government with the help of money and defections.
BJP on its part was in doldrums and indecisive whether to form or not to form the government. Had it taken a firm decision to either form government or to declare elections in 2014, it would have certainly drawn the match in its favour because AAP and its leadership was demoralised and was facing worst criticism and crisis of trust for not being able to govern Delhi and for betraying the Delhi electorate. By not taking a correct and prompt decision and by postponing the elections, BJP gave ample time to AAP and its leader Kejriwal to retrieve the lost political ground by apologising for his hasty resignation and asking people to give him absolute majority for five years promising in return a stable government by not tendering his resignation in any circumstances. It also gave ample time to Kejriwal to mobilise and reorganise his cadre, finance, and confidence.
Selection of candidates
Here also the AAP left BJP far behind and announced its candidates months in advance to give them opportunity to undertake one to one contact programme, use this in long term to discredit BJP on welfare of people and present itself as the only viable alternative to BJP to work for the good of the poor and slums. Both the congress and the AAP politicised the coat episode to their advantage by trying to present the BJP as a pro-rich party. Politics is all about perceptions after all. BJP, on the other hand decided its candidates on almost the last day of filing nomination papers.
This left too little a time for them to reach the electorate the way AAP candidates established a rapport specially with the people who are generally termed as poor and deprived. Denial of ticket to the president of the Delhi BJP dealt a heavy blow to whatever favourable environment there was for that party. Refusing to field a young and the honest person like him alienated the youth and the Brahmin voter from the party. Inadequate tickets to the Poorvanchalis also went against the party. The voters of these sections shifted to the AAP.
Centralisation of the campaign and importing strategists to the Delhi BJP
The election campaign launched by the BJP had clear stamp of the authority of the central leadership that was hardly open and accessible to the ideas and suggestions of the local leaders and the cadre. It goes without saying that the leaders from the Centre, howsoever wise and strategically competent, can not prove to be as efficacious and effective as the local leaders who work with the people of the city day in and day out. Sidelining, ignoring, or humiliating them may establish unquestioned power of the Centre, but can not win them elections. This is exactly what happened in Delhi in case of BJP.
The leadership shall do good to learn to digest ideas and suggestions for the good of the orgaisation even if they are at variance with their strategy or political thinking. After all both of them, the local and the Central, are on the same page when it comes to the serving of interests of the party.
Political and social chemistry can be better understood by the leaders at the Pradesh level and the levels below must have been appreciated to win these elections. Overcentralisation was seen by the voters as a humiliation of the local leadership leading to a vote of disapproval of such behaviour. At the same time, it might have made the local cadre more unconcerned and less involved in the conduct of elections and becoming merely cogs in the wheel merely implementing the decisions taken at the top. This also divested them of owning any responsibility for any electoral outcome and also rendering them complacent depending on the miracles to be brought by the speeches of the prime minister. Results are there for all of us to see. It might be recalled that the prospects of BJP’s victory were quite bright till the local faces like Satish Upadhyaya and Harshvardhan were in the forefront of the conduct of elections and the decision of the BJP to elect the CM only after the election results were out.
Secular forces came together to defeat BJP
In the last week of the election campaign, the AAP and other secular forces focused only on the stray statements of some MPs and hindu religious leaders to paint agenda of BJP as a communal one while completely ignoring the minority communalism practiced by muslim leaders like Owaisi. While the educated were supposed to understand this traditional secular song against BJP, it did not happen.
These statements, though everyone is free to express their views until they were against the national and social interests, were presented as a negation of the development agenda of BJP; the youth was targeted to mobilise that section against the BJP by saying that BJP was focusing more on the jeans and mobiles of the youth than on development; the opposition campaigned about the failure of the Modi government to restrain or reduce inflation. Such issues added to the cynicism of the Delhi voters. The rural Delhi was dissuaded to vote for BJP on the issue of Land Acquisition Ordinance successfully. The JJ cluster and the deprived sections were swayed by the promise of free water and electricity. Simultaneously, the TMC, the CPM, the JD(U), and the BSP all combined to oppose BJP in an effort to stop the winning streak of the BJP. The Transfer of Muslim and congress vote almost in entirety contributed to the stunning defeat of the BJP.
Entry of Kiran Bedi in BJP
Another factor responsible for the electoral loss was, as popularly perceived across the country and Delhi, was not only the admission of Kiran Bedi into the BJP fold but also declaration that she was the future chief minister of Delhi in case she got the majority. It was not so because she was seen as incompetent in any sense, but because she was not familiar with the tone and tenor of politics. She was percieved more as an officer, an administrator, than a political leader responsive and compassionate to the needs of the people of Delhi in general and the poor in particular. Secondly, it was wrong on the part of the BJP to change its stand on the issue of selecting the CM after the elections.
The outcome of the elections in Delhi suggests that
a) The local units should be extended support instead of control by the central high command;
b) The chemistry of each state is different and hence, no uniform approach to electoral management can be adopted by any political leadership;
c) The issues have to be properly understood and addressed by the campaign managers and agenda setters and need to be duly conveyed to various sections of the society that is so heterogeneous in character;
d)The exposure of governance and leadership deficit of Kejriwal should have been a matter of passing reference than of focus. The focus should have been on the proposed course of action for the youth, the unemployed, the poor, the women, and the employees of the government. It might be said in the last that it was a combination of errors by the BJP at the Centre and better campaigning
by the Opposition that culminated in the unexpected loss for BJP.
The author is former professor of Delhi University and office bearer of Delhi BJP