In his first public address after the Delhi elections, Union home minister Amit Shah has said that BJP may have lost the polls because of controversial statements like “goli maaro” and “India-Pakistan match”. However, he added that there was no way to really know why people pressed which button inside a polling booth. While it might be too much of a loss of face for BJP leadership to admit that their campaign strategy in Delhi was wrong, the fact that Shah is willing to concede that provocative slogans may have contributed to BJP’s defeat is a good sign.
Over the last six years, BJP’s campaign strategy for most elections has been based on dog whistle communalism and polarisation. While this may have seen the party reap rich political dividends in several instances, it isn’t a formula that can be used repeatedly. Beyond a point, people see through the strategy and start demanding answers on the governance front. This is precisely what happened in Delhi where people seem to have voted for AAP on the basis of its focus on governance issues. Plus, constantly trying to polarise the electorate for electoral benefits damages the social fabric. This is again something that the larger public won’t put up with since it harms everyone.
Thus, BJP needs to review its electoral strategy. It has created a party culture where members think it is fine to make provocative statements. In fact, as the Delhi campaign showed, many even think this is the way to get ahead in the party. But having lost a string of state elections, BJP should realise that polarisation as a strategy may motivate its core supporters, but won’t help gain the confidence of the majority of the electorate. With Bihar and Bengal polls next on the political calendar, BJP has to change track. Otherwise, it risks biting the dust once again.