BJP’S HISTORIC LOW WITHIN A YEAR OF THE HISTORIC HIGH OF LOK SABHA POLLS: THE CARDINAL BLUNDERS

Aam Aadmi Party is headed to win an unexpected over 60 seats in the 70 member Delhi assembly – a first by any party in Delhi.

Congress is expected to fail totally – failing to win even a single seat – a first for Congress party in Delhi.

Bhartiya Janata Party is expected to reduce to sub-10 bracket, possibly with 6-8 seats – a first for the party to go below 10 in the Delhi assembly polls since 1993.

And it is because of BJP’s own doings. Yes, blunders, one after the other.

Sheer negligence and over-confidence: Riding high on the Lok Sabha victory, the Modi Wave and the assembly victories with Modi as the face, BJP did never take Delhi seriously – until it had become too late.

Winning the Lok Sabha polls with clear majority, first party to do so after 1984, and winning three assembly polls in quick succession, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and emerging as the second largest party in Jammu & Kashmir – the confidence thereafter made Delhi a light affair for BJP strategists who believed things could be managed but when they realized the seriousness of affairs, of their faulty handling of Delhi elections, it had become too late to reverse the tide.

In two minds on its chances in Delhi: BJP was always in two minds on its chances in Delhi and that ultimately resulted in the mess that we saw in these assembly polls, as it could really never assess its ground properly and that made it try to delay the Delhi polls until polls became inevitable.

Assembly polls could have been held soon after the Lok Sabha polls and that would have given BJP the advantage of the fresh national mandate that was hugely in its favour.

That would also have taken away the window of opportunity that Arvind Kejriwal and AAP got with time at their hand to apologise for the ‘deserter act’ in February 2014 and campaign to mobilize the opinions in their favour with ‘we did commit mistake by leaving Delhi’s government just 49 days and we would not do so again, please give us a second chance’ request, while hard-selling the perceived goods of the governance of those 49 days. Humility first came as the big leveller and then became the decisive advantage for AAP.

Instead, BJP chose to keep on delaying the polls. Let’s safely assume that had the BJP’s central leadership decided on facing the polls earlier, the Lieutenant-Governor nod, with L-G being a central government appointee and representative, would never be an issue.

The Delhi house disorder: BJP could not pay attention on setting its Delhi house in order even if there was enough time, a year, between Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation in February 2014 and assembly polls in February 2015. Delhi BJP was a divided house with factions furthering their agenda. This factionalism was evident when none of the MPs took active interest in mobilizing public for the January 10 Abhinandan Rally addressed by Narendra Modi. Delhi BJP remained a divided house even as the polls approached. Now, with such a humiliating loss, doing the course correction may be even more difficult.

Making Delhi a prestige issue: Though BJP did prop up Kiran Bedi after the lacklustre show of Narendra Modi’s Abhinandan Rally, that was publicized as the launch event of BJP’s Delhi campaign, the whole BJP campaign remained centred on Narendra Modi with party asking votes in Modi’s name and his governance, and thus winning the polls became a prestige issue, even if the signs were headed in a reversed direction. BJP was still fighting the Delhi polls as if it could never have erred, as if ‘an electoral defeat’ had become an improbability for the party. The first glimpse of loss, with the Abhinandan Rally, thus set a series of responses that further derailed its prospects in Delhi.

In panic mode: Reacting in panic on almost every development had become a hallmark of BJP that began with the January 10 rally that was marketed in the name of Narendra Modi with a big media push but that turned out a letdown. The expected range of crowd, in the range of one lakh, was a morale busting 30,000-40,000. After it, BJP kept on changing its strategy regularly that further muddied the waters leaving the ground workers flabbergasted who didn’t have idea what was happening and who to reach out to as the campaign was totally hijacked by the outsiders.

The hijacked campaign: BJP’s central leadership hijacked the campaign totally, dispelling the local leadership.

Now, these bombarded ministers, MPs and workers (including RSS workers) from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (to target the voters with Eastern UP and Bihar roots) and leaders from other states were strangers for the local voters.

And when the local line of connect, the field worker in the assembly constituencies, starts acting disenchanted, the exercise becomes counterproductive wiping out in the process any advantage that it could have accrued.

And that is what exact happened with BJP in these polls. We have good enough number of reports talking about the disconnect of the dissatisfied field workers of BJP. Clearly, they added to the negativity on BJP’s chances adding thus to the prospects of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal as evident first by the pre-poll and exit poll projections and by the results today with AAP emerging as the clear winner beating all expectations, even AAP’s internal surveys.

The negativity accrued from a negative campaign: While Arvind Kejriwal kept on smiling and did not respond to the personal attacks, BJP’s campaigning became more and more stinging. BJP resorted to a clearly negative campaign with no care for elements of subtlety and satire. It was all out in the open.

It had fought the Lok Sabha election on development plank with a campaign that was largely positive. The advertisement with Anna Hazare’s photo or the ‘upadravi gotra’ advertisement was unnecessary. BJP had to fine tune its campaign in the context that there was no anti-incumbency against AAP’s previous government but it failed to do so.

Like Narendra Modi was the central target of the opponents in the Lok Sabha polls that helped him in the end, increasing his visibility when others failed to declare a credible name against him, BJP unwittingly allowed Kejriwal the same advantage with its negative person-centric campaign.

Issues disowned: By making the campaign Modi and Modi Vs Kejriwal centric and by maintaining silence on issues like ‘Delhi’s full statehood’, something BJP had always been crying about or on ‘independent audit of power distribution companies of Delhi’, BJP went further downward on the credibility scale of voters. It did not release its manifesto. Yes, in an age when ‘political corruption’ has become a catchphrase about ‘politics, taking seriously a manifesto doesn’t make for much, but then what was the need for the party to come with a vision document, than too, just three days before the polls?

BJP didn’t address the issues of Delhi locally, instead it kept on talking about big governance promises of Narendra Modi’s union government expecting the voters to look for their pie in them. Now, who has the time and who cares for generic approaches in an assembly polls? Yes, BJP’s generic approach to the Delhi-specific issues worked to reduce its credibility even further.

Conditional campaigning: BJP’s conditional campaign or campaign focusing heavily on a conditional proposition was another major reason behind BJP’s massive fall.

‘The voters should vote for BJP if they have to see a developed Delhi’ was BJP’s straight message – repeated time and again by its leaders including Narednra Modi – saying doing so would ensure the coordination between union government and the government in Delhi. In direct words, it is like – if you don’t vote for us, don’t expect our help in Delhi’s development then – certainly an undemocratic proposition.

Now, the poll outcome says Delhiites refused to buy this conditional offer in the world’s largest democracy.

The Kiran Bedi gamble that wasn’t: Para-dropping Kiran Bedi to address these concerns, looking at her as someone a panacea for all BJP woes in Delhi was the final element to complete the reversal of BJP’s electoral fortunes. Before bringing in Bedi, senior BJP leaders were not taken into confidence. Also, with her induction, the local leadership was virtually disengaged from campaigning that further alienated the Delhi BJP workers.

Considering Kiran Bedi a masterstroke when there were equal chances that the decision could have backfired also – was a poorly devised electoral strategy as the party had no time for an alternative in case of a negative progress report and that is exactly what has happened.

Kiran Bedi, before it, was never tested politically, and did not have the privilege of a credibly clean figure, something that Kejriwal enjoys. She had her fair share of controversies like allegations of inflated airfare bills, controversy on her daughter’s admission in a medical college, her U-turn on not joining politics, her U-turn on Narendra Modi and controversies related to her career as an IPS officer including the spat with lawyers in Delhi that make her an un-middle class personality as well.

BJP miscalculated on Kiran Bedi’s appeal thinking it could be linked to Narendra Modi’s mass appeal and could well be used as an alternative, local face for BJP.

BJP miscalculated that it could take on an activist-turned politician with another activist-turned politician hoping their days when they worked together would give the party strategists insight into countering Kejriwal’s campaign more effectively – pinning Kejriwal in his own way.

BJP paradropped Kiran Bedi just 22 days before the polls to face and already established player who was enjoying consistently higher popularity ratings with virtually no opposition on the scale. Kiran Bedi did not have the time even to re-compose herself, let alone the basic essentials like reading the politics of Delhi in the context of an AAP Vs BJP contest, speaking the political language and thus making moves accordingly.

Instead, she kept on speaking like a police officer, narrowed down by her administrative experience and remaining confined to that when the need was to widen politically, when the canvas was not the certain defined realms of a professional obligation but an undefined, political landscape open to the dynamic changes as the campaigning progressed. That could have worked for an activist but certainly not for a politician.

These blunders were magnified even more when seen with the increasing fringe voices from within BJP and the RSS-affiliated outfits – furthering the controversial religious agenda with events like ‘Ghar Vapasi for religious conversions’, statements on making India a Hindu nation, efforts to rewrite the text books in a particular context – the politics of intolerance – a total antithesis of development politics – and this mix didn’t go down well with an increasingly demanding electorate that is running out of patience and needs real development in real time.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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