The BJP’s strategy for national and state polls might not succeed in the national capital. Neither caste nor anti-incumbency work here
By Mantosh Sharma
After successive wins in last year’s general and state elections like Maharashtra, Har-yana and Jharkhand, the BJP has emerged as a powerful poli-tical party in India. These wins are the outcome of successful election campaigns and a very strong leadership, which has maintained a public discourse focussed on growth aspirations. This, coupled with a fragmented opposition, taking political advantage of regional social engineering and incumbency of local governments, has led to astounding wins.
These could have been replicable strategies to win the assembly election in Delhi scheduled for February 7. However, conditions on the ground are different. The BJP is facing very tough competition from AAP and reality check compels political observers to recall the proverb—everything that glitters is not gold and everything glossy is not glass.
So what has changed in Delhi? Why does the prime minister have to intervene personally to provide campaign momentum and set the battle in a two-cornered contest?
Core strengths which led to the success of each party in recent elections are being challenged in Delhi. Let us start with the first strength—a successful political campaign. Lately, the BJP has used the shock-and-awe type of campaigning through social and print media and has bombarded constituencies with national and regional leaders. This is in contrast to the door-to-door campaigning it is known for. But the issue with technology and social-based campaigns is that it can be copied easily without much extra investment. Any political party can tweet articles, blogs and influence comments without burning campaign fortunes. And AAP has successfully matched this stren-gth with its technical-savvy volunteers and door-to-door campaigning by local leaders. The party has, thereby, become an equally visible political force in the Delhi elections.
Another key factor of any successful win is fragmented opposition. This allows all political parties to maximize winning seats withvote share. Laloo Prasad Yadav exploited this through his maverick political strategy in three Bihar elections. The BJP used this strategy successfully in the Lok Sabha election in UP, where it got maximum seats through vote shares. However, this strength is in question in Delhi.
Portraying AAP as the main contender was a mistake on the part of the BJP. And the prime minister talking about the AAP leadership in his speeches was also a mistake. AAP became the main opposition and polarized the election into a two-party contest. This is how people who were the BJP’s core constituency perceived it. AAP was always a contender. However, its public recognition through the BJP leadership has made it a contender in the eyes of middle and upper middle class voters, where the BJP has an advantage. This is the same section which was unamused by AAP’s jhadu and dharna politics. This is the same section which is media sensitive. Also, this polarization has given credibility to AAP as a force on whom minority politics will be hinging. Approximately 12-13 percent minority votes will be decisive in this election.
Arvind Kejriwal (Above) and Kiran Bedi (facing page) campaigning in Delhi
One of the salient and successful strategies of the BJP in recent times was ticket distribution and alliances based on social engineering. This was meticulously executed in UP through Amit Shah’s leadership. Smaller parties were roped in to fortify social alliances. Apna Dal, for example, was roped in and given two seats to ally with the BJP. Many leaders of the opposition were also roped in by the prime minister to fortify caste-based support.
However, in its public discourse, the BJP has always used development and aspirational politics in its political agenda. This has been a remarkable master stroke vis-à-vis the RJD, BSP and Samajwadi Party. These regional parties have heavily relied on and played the social engineering card.
However, Delhi is a different ball game and its election results will be a topic to study for political and sociological pundits. Delhi’s social fabric is based more on divides like middle vs upper middle class, jhuggijopadi-autowalla class and Poorvi-Punjabi regional groups. There is little caste-based identification which can give room for social engineering, as happened in the Lok Sabha and other state elections. And the BJP’s winning model so far will be under test here. It would do well to change its strategy.
Finally, there is the advantage due to incumbency. Delhi did not face incumbency like in other states, even though anti-incumbency was exploited earlier by AAP and the BJP. However, AAP did not rule Delhi long enough to create this political opening for others to cash in. Still, it did create confusion and raise many questions among the upper middle class voters about its ability to govern. Many famed supporters either left AAP or became dormant. The party has understood this and is trying to change its image from dharna politics to governance. It may be that our prime minister’s aspirational politics has influenced AAP and taught it to tango along with its political base.
On the other side, the BJP has created confusion among people who are in the political middle. Extreme right organizations have virtually stolen the aspirational message and in Delhi, this could hurt the BJP. The advantage it gained over AAP in terms of its governance agenda has been negated.
Kiran Bedi’s induction into the BJP should be looked at through this angle. The BJP needed to close the “lack of leadership” debate in Delhi, influence changes within the local faction-ridden organization, set an agenda to counter AAP and finally, absolve the PM if the BJP gets defeated in Delhi.
Will this strategy work is the million-dollar question.
The writer is a political observer, commentator and member of the Varanasi-based Sahajanand Shodh Sansthan