As the battle for Delhi gets going officially, the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be groping to get out of a labyrinth of its own making. It is facing a confident and zestful Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is way ahead in mass contact and popularisation of his government’s schemes. That’s a demoralising thing in itself. But the BJP is also unable to formulate a coherent response. It wants to criticise, but on what grounds?
And, as if that’s not enough, its organisation in Delhi is riven with intense infighting, factionalism and rivalries among various local satraps, and groups at each other’s throats. Party leaders are posting unsavoury audio clips of rivals and last September, several fights were reported between supporters of different groups.
And, there is still more. BJP is also carrying the weight of the Narendra Modi government’s failures – most importantly, the economic mess of rising prices, rising joblessness, and declining demand. Delhi’s middle class, usually a big spender, has put the brakes on spending, with shopkeepers and malls, and builders all gloomy. Divisive issues, such as CAA-NRC-NPR have cracked the support Modi enjoyed from the intelligentsia, especially among students and younger people. There is a sinking feeling that Modi sarkar is not up to the job.
Even Alliances are Failing
On January 20, one day before the close of nomination filing, talks between BJP and its traditional ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) collapsed. This was not because of seat disputes but rather, a political question. SAD refused to go with BJP because of the CAA (Citzenship Amendment Act) and the proposed National Register of Citizens and National Population Register (NRC-NPR), which the SAD thinks are discriminatory and anti-secular.
There are an estimated eight lakh Sikh voters in Delhi and, of course, not all vote for BJP. In fact, in the last elections in 2015, the Sikhs mostly voted for AAP. But still, the significance of this split cannot be underestimated. It denotes rising scepticism, if not anger, with the BJP for putting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s agenda above what is good for the country. It’s a discontent that is being felt most strongly in the middle class, as shown by lakhs of university students who have been taking part in anti-CAA-NRC protests throughout the country. Sikhs in Delhi are typically middle class, if not upper. Their disillusionment is a sign of the erosion BJP is facing in the capital.
So, BJP has now decided to go with an alliance with Janata Dal (United) (two seats) and Lok Janashakti Party (one seat). That’s bizarre and another sorry admission of its own decline. These parties have no organisational presence in Delhi. Both parties would like to believe that they represent the large migrant population from Bihar that works in Delhi. For the BJP to accommodate them in order to win – hopefully – some votes, shows how dire its situation has become.
Groping for Right Political Message
Perhaps the biggest shackle on BJP today in Delhi is their inability to decide on the political message: how to approach the people. They want to -- indeed feel compelled to -– attack AAP. Without that there is no way they can present BJP as an alternative. So, they will have to point out failures. But in that process, there is a massive problem -- what failures?
For example, they are planning to criticise the AAP government on its failure to implement the Ayushman Bharat health insurance programme in Delhi, reports suggest. This also gives them an opportunity to criticise the popular Mohalla Clinics, over 600 of which are reportedly running in Delhi’s poorer localities. But does this work? Even the BJP is doubtful.
It has also been reported that BJP is going to say that a symbolic Re 1 should be charged from electricity users instead of the wildly popular system brought in by AAP in which there is no charge till usage of 200 units, thus giving relief to lakhs of people. Such absurd proposals of BJP are very unlikely to appeal to the populace, and only confirms the complete lack of issues to take before the people. As a counterpoint, Congress has taken the opposite plank, saying they will increase the free slab to 600 units! That, too, is being seen as equally absurd.
In the backdrop of this fumbling, BJP cadres are getting demoralised and increasingly looking toward the only viable plank: Modi himself. Modi will probably spend not more than a couple of days personally campaigning. So, BJP will be selling his image and achievements. That is the sum of their campaign. This is unlikely to work, as was clear from the recent state Assembly elections.
A similar fate awaits the publicity to ultra-nationalist or divisive issues like “muscular policy towards Pakistan” (whatever that means) and the CAA. These issues, too, failed in Jharkhand and earlier in Maharashtra, where its ally deserted BJP, or even in Haryana, where they lost the majority and quickly cobbled up an alliance with a local outfit to remain in power.
In any case, Delhi is seeing widespread protests against CAA and the proposed NRC-NPR, especially among students. It has also seen police’s shocking brutality against protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia and Seelampur. It has seen the violence unleashed by masked pro-BJP goons in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Put this together with the general messing up of the economy, and the growing costs of education and health, and the reasons for middle class apathy towards BJP become clear.
So, with no clear political message, no machinery to carry its ‘Modi Magic’ message because of the broken organisation and growing disillusionment with the central government, BJP is staring at an electoral nightmare in Delhi.