oppn parties BJP's Loss: A Classic Case of How Not to Fight Elections

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BJP's Loss: A Classic Case of How Not to Fight Elections

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
The huge and humiliating loss in Delhi will be good for the BJP if it learns a few hard lessons from it. The first, and the biggest, lesson is that local leaders should never be neglected, overshadowed or sidelined. The second is that the ordinary workers of the party should never be asked to campaign for an outsider with less than a month left for the polls even if it is a high profile outsider. The third is that too many turncoats of the main opposition should not be admitted to the party close to any elections, and even if they are, they should not be given tickets to fight the first elections after joining the party. There are other lessons which will be taken up later in the article, as by clubbing these lessons together, a parallel will be drawn with the ma-beta party.

During the general elections, Narendra Modi spared no occasion to take a dig at how the ma-beta were ruling India and making a mess of things. But now his own party is following all the policies of Congress. The Congress used to cut the very branch it sat on by imposing chief ministers from the high command. So concerned was it to prevent local leaders from gaining popularity that it imposed ‘leaders’ without any grassroots support. The only criterion was unquestioned loyalty to ‘the family.’ Although the BJP’s script is a little different in that it had projected a high profile and hitherto apolitical candidate to lead its Delhi campaign, the similarity was that the candidate was a novice, without any grassroots support. Party workers give their heart and soul for local leaders for long years and when an unknown person recently admitted to the party is thrust upon them, most of their enthusiasm vanishes. No election is won by an army of dispirited foot-soldiers. BJP workers had no answer to the questions posed to them about what happened to local leaders like Harshvardhan and Vijay Goel. So they shied away from people contact. In local elections, each house has to be covered. The BJP lost the elections on the streets â€" the ballots were just a formality.

Making itself an open house was another big mistake. Shazia Ilmi and Vinod Binny, along with scores of other lesser AAP people crossed over and were welcomed with open arms. Some came from Congress too. But the BJP has always been a different party. Its ideology cannot be imbibed by people from other parties just like that. The aam aadmi did not take kindly to the BJP admitting people from the Congress and the AAP while carrying out a strident campaign against the two parties. It also created differences between the local leadership and the high command, again highlighting the fact that BJP was fast imbibing all the bad habits of the Congress â€" a party which it so despises. The people are not wrong in saying if this is what BJP will become in future then they will be replacing one demon with another. They do not just want a Congress mukt Bharat, but a Bharat mukt of all the dirty politics that Congress, as the party that ruled for more than 60 years, indulged in. If the BJP has replaced the Congress just to put in place a new set of people to carry out the same set of ugly machinations, then the country has not benefitted at all from the change.

Another big mistake the BJP should learn from is that it should take no opposition lightly. If Delhi was on the radar of Amit Shah, he could not have missed how the AAP was making people to people contact ever since it lost heavily in the general elections. He must have got the feedback that Kejriwal was going around apologizing for his mistake of resigning in 49 days the last time. Even if he did not get all of this, while driving around the city he should have seen the way AAP was plastering Delhi with its publicity material. He should have realized that AAP was making a serious pitch for Delhi and it should have galvanized him into action. Nothing of this sort happened and AAP had a free run for far too long, damaging BJP’s chances.

When the response did come, it was all wrong. Instead of going for a penetrative people to people contact, the BJP rained a huge number of star campaigners who held innumerable, but largely ineffective, rallies. These were supplemented by what BJP thought was its trump card - four rallies by Modi. But ignoring the fact that Kejriwal was apologizing and people were accepting his apology, all BJP leaders including Modi kept on harping about his bhagoda image. There was a dialogue in the movie Mary Kom where the heroine tells an official that “kisi ko itna bhi mat darao ki darr hi khatm ho jaye”(do not scare anyone so much that he/she is no longer afraid). By playing the bhagoda issue to death, the BJP in effect neutralized it and made people think of giving Kejriwal a second chance.

By trying to replicate the kind of campaigning done in the general elections and a few state elections after that, the BJP missed the whole point in Delhi. This campaign was hijacked by Kejriwal in his strident take on local issues such as water, electricity and displacement of jhuggi-jhopdis. The people of Delhi had seen big talk about the growth agenda of Narendra Modi without anything concrete happening in the last 9 months. Of course, it would be wrong to think all issues will be addressed in such a short time, but Delhi’ites wanted answers to their local problems which the BJP did not provide. Instead, it vilified AAP in general and Kejriwal in particular, making him a hero of sorts. It now seems that every negative word uttered by BJP leaders against Kejriwal added at least 100 votes to his tally. That is one explanation for this huge mandate.

As Delhi has a large minority voter base, the antics of the Hindutva elements must have also played on the minds of such voters. Just before the elections, a church was desecrated in the city and subsequently, protesting nuns and priests were dragged into waiting buses. Even if a state election cannot be dubbed as a referendum on the national government, it is clear that the people of Delhi have also voted against the BJP’s inability to rein in the mischievous and dangerous Hindutva elements.

Whether the BJP admits it or not, the way it fought the Delhi elections can give birth to a manual on how not to fight state elections. It is certain that having imbibed the wrong policies of the Congress, the BJP too will shield its top leadership and party president when it analyzes the causes of its defeat. It will try to find scapegoats in the local leadership and maybe with Kiran Bedi’s candidature. But the fact is that after a few spectacular successes, most notably in UP during the Lok Sabha polls, Amit Shah thought he could do no wrong and was flying too high. A certain muffler man and the people of Delhi have made him crash-land.