How Modi and Amit Shah Lost Delhi For the BJP


Kiran Bedi, whose aesthetic judgement has Modi’s “beautiful face” as its benchmark, might step forward to claim the credit for the BJP’s spectacular defeat in the Delhi elections, but the palm leaf should surely be shared by Modi and his beautiful companion-at-arms, Amit Shah. Between the two of them, they have delivered the BJP such a sound thrashing that for exactly the same reason that till yesterday, their dual performance at the polls used to be hailed as “masterly”, for that same reason, they now need to be held up to ridicule. But for the two having so needlessly taken over what, after all, was an election to India’s smallest state, the BJP would certainly not have suffered the rout it has.

It was the two who decided that Kiran Bedi should be rewarded for her tasteless sycophancy by being selected to grace the Throne of Delhi. In a single stroke, they antagonized dozens of Delhi’s homegrown BJP leaders and thousands of its workers. Here is a party that in the two decades since Delhi was granted statehood has produced a sheaf of Chief Ministers ranging from Madan Lal Khurana to Sahib Singh and Sushma Swaraj. Their leaders have included men of political standing like Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Harshvardhan and Jagdish Mukhi. All of them, and scores of other aspirants, were pushed to one side by a single decree emanating from the very top of the party: the crown, they ordered, is being awarded to Kiran Bedi. The precipitate decline in the BJP’s fortunes coincided exactly with that decision. Till then, pollsters had thought the BJP would carry the people of Delhi with it. In fact, Modi and Shah between them ensured that Kejriwal’s jhadoo would sweep the elections.

The next mistake of the Modi-Shah duo was converting a small state election into a referendum on the Centre’s performance by inducting into the campaign every single central minister and no less than 120 MPs, besides its Chief Ministers and other senior leaders from the Hindi belt. Never – and this is worth emphasizing – never have so many been deployed to achieve so little. Modi-Shah wanted to claim victory in Delhi as vindication of nine months of BJP rule at the Centre. In the event, the elections have only exposed the growing disillusionment and disenchantment of the people of India with the empty bombast that has characterized those nine months of insubstantial image boosting.

A third major boo-boo was the Modi-Shah decision to delay the elections in Delhi from the summer last year to the present. Had they recognized the temporary nature of the wave that took Modi to power, they would have understood that the wave had crested and the ebb had started. But so puffed up were they with their arrogance and certitude that they failed to see that every wave must ebb. Hubris has arrived. As the ancient Greeks used to say, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad!”

That there is such a syndrome operating is best illustrated by Modi-Shah’s refusal to take a stand on communal disturbances. Both Trilokpuri and Bawana in NCT Delhi have been buffeted by communal riots in the aftermath of the May 2014 elections. That disturbs the aam admi and the khaas aadmi. But neither Modi nor Shah has had a word to say in sympathy for the victims. Notwithstanding the ten-year moratorium on communalism that Modi sought fit to declare from the ramparts of the Red Fort, again and again he has failed to rein in the lunatic fringe of the Sangh Parivar – for the good reason that it is this fringe which brought him to power and it is this fringe that is his natural home. The so-called “development agenda” has long been put on the back-burner while the real agenda is brought to the fore through “love jihad”, “ghar wapasi” and forced conversion/reconversion, aside from pre-election riots of the kind the nation witnessed at Saharanpur. Five churches have been attacked or burned down in Delhi itself. Not a word about this outrage figured in the Modi-Shah campaign. It alienated every segment of the voting public.

There is also the notorious praise of the “patriotism” of the murderer of the Mahatma, Nathuram Godse, and the building of temples to him and statues of him. Modi’s response was to refuse to fulfill his parliamentary duty of coming to the Rajya Sabha to explain himself, thus sabotaging his government’s entire legislative agenda. He did it because he and Jaitley had already hatched their dirty plan of bringing through ordinances legislation that would not have stood the scrutiny of Parliament.

One of these ordinances relates to the Land Acquisition Act that the BJP had voted for only a few months ago. By taking away from the aam admi the right to not lose land without his consent and due compensation, the BJP has alarmed small and marginal landholders the country over. The first test was on the rural and quasi-rural outskirts of Delhi that have been the worst victims of the real estate mafia. It was in the score of seats in this rural periphery that the BJP won most of its seats in the December 2013 elections. It is here that the BJP has now been roundly defeated. The implications are nation-wide: that Nariman Point and Malabar Hill may thrill at the thought of land being acquired at a pittance by the State for exploitation by Big Business, but the farmers and the labour that works these lands are going to reject the BJP all over the countryside if it persists, as it seems likely to do, with the amendments it has made by ordinance to the Land Acquisition Act.

The ordinances reflect, of course, the authoritarian bent of mind that is so characteristically Modi’s (and Shah’s). They got away with it in Gujarat. So, they thought they could get away with it at the Centre. Delhi has taught them a lesson –  namely, that democracy does not care for dictators. The deft playing of the communal card in Gujarat gave them ten years of arbitrary abuse of power in the name of “development” in that State; Delhi, in keeping with India’s civilizational ethos, has not only said a big NO to creeping communalism, it has also said No to the undermining of democracy and democratic practice.

But perhaps Modi’s biggest contribution to his own resounding defeat has been the ten lakh suit, embroidered repeatedly with his name, that he donned to show off to Obama. That is manic vanity. People were revolted at the idea of their Prime Minister dressing up like a mediaeval monarch. Remember the story of the child who cried out that the Emperor had no clothes? Delhi has asked the same question.