BJP is the net gainer in the Delhi election, secularism be damned

Despite all the hype around the Bharatiya Janata Party losing the Delhi assembly elections, the party is actually the biggest gainer of these polls. That assessment is enough to dismiss me as a bhakt of the BJP or its current leadership. But I am no BJP fan, nor of any of its electoral opponents. I am just a journalist looking at the facts. And here they are:

The BJP’s vote share has jumped from 32.3 per cent in 2015 to 38.5 per cent, a net gain of over six per cent in an election in which the winner has won more than half the votes polled. That it will have eight instead of three legislators in the state assembly is little solace for the BJP considering it had pushed in a host of cabinet ministers and dozens of Members of Parliament into the campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. But the net gain in votes in the face of a formidable pro-incumbency wave is a big leap for the BJP. The BJP lost not because it polled roughly two of every five votes cast but because the AAP polled more than half of the votes cast. The chances of that happening in most states where the BJP is in the reckoning are next to nil. The Chhattisgarh assembly polls of 2018 that the Congress swept had the winner bagging 43 per cent votes, 10 per cent more than the BJP.

The gains come directly from the losses of the Congress. The Congress’s vote share in Delhi was below five per cent in this election and that is a good enough cause for the BJP to celebrate. It is for a reason that Modi and Shah are desperately seeking a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, not an opposition-free polity. Despite the mess that it is in today, the Congress has a formidable national footprint. Yes there was a gap of 251 seats in the 2019 elections between the BJP and the Congress but for every two votes that went to the BJP, one went to the Congress: It had garnered nearly 20 per cent of the vote share. The Congress of yesteryear is what the BJP wants to be: an umbrella, catch-all party.

The BJP did it without projecting a probable chief minister but by polarising voters. In 2015, the party had projected the former police officer Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate. Bedi ended up antagonising the party cadre but her candidature had resonated strongly among those who believe that Indians desperately need a benign dictator to set things right. This time around the BJP went into election promising better development than AAP offered but soon abandoned development for hypernationalism. Many have argued that the vitriolic campaign that the BJP unleashed in this election hasn’t won it any admirers. Even if you accept that argument by ignoring the rise in vote share, the election has created new haters for the BJP’s enemies. The damage that polarisation does to democracy is hard to reverse and the voters it wins are harder to wean away. Dare I say, communalising elections will be the norm, at least in the near future.

Delhi is not even a full state. Its administration is divided between the Centre and the state government. The BJP is already in power at the Centre. With a comprehensive, second consecutive absolute majority, AAP will find it difficult to find new areas where it can significantly show marked improvement. Education and health, the low hanging fruit, is gone. Law and order, despite being on the state list, is with the Centre. The municipal corporations are already with the BJP at least for two more years. Elections will be held in 2022.

Winning Delhi confines Arvind Kejriwal to the capital. Though the AAP has ambitious expansion plans, it is a fledgling party with little presence outside the national capital. Winning Delhi means Kejriwal and his team will need to focus on governing Delhi. The huge numbers bring great expectations and Delhi-ities are a pampered lot anyway. Keeping them happy is a tough job. Despite all the predictions and hype over AAP’s national game plan, it will have to go through the slow and painful process of building a cadre outside Delhi. The Delhi win is good news for AAP in Punjab, where it is already the principal opposition party. But then the BJP is nearly a non-player in the state. The tremendous loss of face for Modi and Shah may be bad news for the two personally, but the party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, won’t think much of it in the longer run. Personalities are useful for the RSS as long as they can expand the Hindutva footprint among voters. Beyond that they are dispensable. Those who think otherwise might want to revisit the story of the party’s founding father, Lal Krishna Advani.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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