During his hectic campaign for the Delhi elections, Union Home Minister Amit Shah repeatedly said the capital’s voters should press the “lotus” button on the electronic voting machine so hard that the “current” was felt in Shaheen Bagh, where thousands of people had been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. After the resounding victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Tuesday, the “current” is surely being felt by the top leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party’s campaign, which worryingly crossed many lines, failed miserably to go the distance, though it improved its vote share by about 6 percentage points. Meanwhile, the Congress, which ruled the city-state for 15 long years till 2013, was further pushed into irrelevance with less than 5 per cent voters endorsing the party.
Although the final result was in line with what several exit and opinion
polls had predicted, the outcome sends out a strong signal once again that voters are now clearly differentiating between local and national elections. Local issues have become far more important in Assembly elections — this is evident from the fact that AAP
campaigned on the developmental work of the past five years, especially in the area of education and health. The provision of free power and water up to an extent, and free bus rides for women also seem to have benefited AAP, though the subsidy-dominated governance model is not exactly the best way forward. While Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejirwal narrowed down politics to governance questions and a clever, selective visit to the Hanuman temple, the BJP’s campaign was limited to raising emotive and discordant slogans. It launched a blistering attack on Mr Kejriwal by calling him a “terrorist”; one Union minister led party workers in calling for the shooting of “traitors”, while a BJP
Member of Parliament equated the protesters with rapists and looters. In fact, Assembly election results in state after state in recent times show that the shrill nationalist narrative has not worked to the BJP’s advantage. While the BJP
seems to be in a better position in Bihar, which heads for the polls later this year, the real test for the party would be in West Bengal, where it will again face a tough incumbent and does not have a strong local leadership. The possibility of polarisation is also high in that state.
On balance, while the Delhi verdict has lessons for the BJP, the biggest loser perhaps is the Congress. The party could not open its account for the second straight time and also witnessed its meagre vote share getting eroded further. The fact that an overwhelming majority of the Congress candidates lost their deposits speaks volumes for the decline of the grand old party. The BJP’s loss cannot be a consolation for the Congress in a state where it had a strong base until a few years ago. The blame for its decline clearly rests with the top leadership. Unless the Congress reinvents itself quickly and decides to work with other Opposition parties to build a counter-narrative, the BJP
will remain the central pole of India’s national electoral politics.