When a ruling party fails to accomplish a political mission, the impact of the setback tends to be severe. Had the BJP narrowly lost the Delhi election to the Aam Aadmi Party, there would have been reverberations, but they would have been limited to three or four days of televised taunts. Unfortunately for it, the drubbing it received on Tuesday morning has been so decisive that the fallout of a local defeat may be far larger than initially anticipated.
Apart from the media-with which the Narendra Modi Government has always had an awkward relationship-gloating over the discomfiture of both the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah, the BJP’s debacle in Delhi has given the national opposition a rush of adrenalin. The psychological effect of AAP’s conclusive victory cannot be underestimated. The fledgling political outfit that promised, among other things, a dose of “new politics” that included cheaper public amenities and free Wi-Fi, has demonstrated that the BJP’s unrelenting advance can be checked. Modi has not been crippled but the chinks in the BJP armour have been exposed.
The BJP can perhaps take nominal comfort in the fact that it was the en-masse shift of erstwhile Congress and BSP votes to AAP that shaped the magnitude of Arvind Kejriwal’s victory. But this statistical consolation prize is offset by some larger questions. Why, the BJP should be asking itself, did the orphaned voters of the Congress and BSP drift to AAP? More important, why did the younger voters who supported Modi so enthusiastically in the 2014 general election drift away from BJP less than a year later?
To be fair, the victorious AAP leadership has been circumspect in triumph. Despite incessant prodding by the media, it has shied away from projecting its Delhi victory as Modi’s Stalingrad. Having been grievously wounded in the past by reckless over-extension, it seems inclined to focus its energies on making Delhi a laboratory of its ‘new politics’. Taking on Modi in frontal combat is an approach it would, for the moment, like to avoid.
This is just as well. Kejriwal and his team appear to have digested the lessons of its 49-day experience when it plunged into a bout of confrontational politics. The promise of five years of Kejriwal incorporated the assurance of change through responsible politics.
Not that this exemplary show of restraint is likely to inhibit the other opposition parties from trying to convert BJP’s Delhi defeat into a full-scale declaration of war against the Modi government. The coming Budget session of Parliament is almost certain to see elements of the still-divided Janata Parivar and the beleaguered Trinamool Congress form a no-hold-barred opposition to the government’s economic policies. The Congress, which should actually be seriously concerned over its rapidly disappearing electoral base, will probably join the melee-seeing it as an alternative to addressing uncomfortable issues centred on its own political failings.
The real attention is, however, likely to be on Modi’s own response to the Delhi defeat. The easy way would be for the BJP leadership to blame the decimation on tactical misjudgements and an inept local leadership. That would be a cop out.
The Delhi election has shown that the appeal of the BJP has dulled on two counts.
First, there are growing murmurs against the slow arrival of the much anticipated achche din. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the complaint ‘nothing has really changed’ sullied the mood against the BJP and added to the charms of the change promised by AAP.
Secondly, the wild utterances of the extremist fringe have derailed the political narrative of the Modi government. In Delhi, this triggered the en-masse consolidation of Muslims, Christians and people from North-East India against the BJP. Equally, it made the appeal of the BJP lukewarm to the youth and a section of the middle classes.
In Delhi, the BJP ended up angering too many social constituencies and ended up with just its core vote. Unfortunately for it, the core vote cannot win elections.