BJP to fight Delhi polls on national and local issues


With evolving campaign strategy, the party will not only rake up issues such as the citizenship law and NRC but will also focus on pollution and water quality

The BJP’s bid to instal a “triple engine government [same party at the Centre, State and municipal corporation level]” in the Capital will involve a delicate balance between raising national and local issues, say party insiders.

Addressing a rally at Ramlila Maidan on December 22, 2019, to kick off his party’s campaign for the Delhi Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attacked the Congress and other Opposition parties for spreading “lies and rumours” about the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and detention centres.

He barely touched upon local issues such as ownership rights for residents of illegal colonies or quality of potable water.

The rally was held on the eve of the Jharkhand election results where the BJP had followed its tested poll strategy to raise mainly national issues. The BJP ended up winning only 25 of the 81 Assembly seats in the State.

A fortnight after Mr. Modi’s rally, BJP national president Amit Shah addressed booth-level workers in Delhi and said that national issues such as ‘surgical strike following Pulwama attack’ and the CAA were at the core of the party’s electoral campaign.

Strategy shift

But the Union Home Minister also indicated a shift in the party’s campaign strategy.

Mr. Shah also talked about the “negative and obstructionist politics” of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in relation to non-implementation of Central government schemes in Delhi. In a departure from the past, Mr. Shah directly attacked Mr. Kejriwal, indicating the electoral significance of countering “AAP’s work”.

“Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal opposed the abolition of Article 370 and 35A, Triple Talaq, decision of Supreme Court on Ram temple, surgical strike and air strike done to avenge the Uri and Pulwama attack,” Mr. Shah had said.

“We wanted to send the anti-national elements who raised slogans like “Bharat tere tukde tukde honge” in JNU to jail, but Kejriwal did not grant permission to prosecute them... We want to grant citizenship to Dalits and Sikh refugees but anti-Dalit AAP and Congress opposed it,” he had said.

He exhorted party workers to undertake a door-to-door campaign to apprise people of “the achievements of the Modi government and the fraud of the Kejriwal government”.

Party insiders said the campaign was supposed to revolve around seamless governance at all three levels of administration in Delhi, resting squarely on the shoulders of PM Modi, as it sought to make the Assembly elections “mostly national”.

This approach will now be tweaked keeping in mind several happenings in a city where governments and issues intersect, they added.

Party line

Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari took the party’s line forward and attacked the Congress and AAP of creating an atmosphere of “confusion and falsehood regarding CAA”.

“The frustrated Opposition parties are trying to push the youth into anarchy for its electoral gains by creating an atmosphere in Jamia and JNU, which is very condemnable... Whatever claims Kejriwal will make of having given benefits during the last five years, the BJP will do at least five times more work for the people of Delhi,” he said.

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Goel said both national and local issues were driving the party’s campaign in the Capital, which was being carried out “under the leadership of PM Modi”. “The party cannot turn away from the fact that lies are deliberately being spread about CAA. As far as local issues are concerned, the party is not only telling citizens about the work done by the Modi-led Centre but also seeking suggestions that will be part of our vision document,” he said.

Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly Vijender Gupta said both national and local issues were of “equal importance” and the party was working towards addressing the concerns of citizens on both fronts as part of its campaign.

“The AAP government had deliberately created obstructions in Phase IV of the Delhi Metro project, construction of the Regional Rapid Transit System as well as conferment of ownership rights to residents of unauthorised colonies. These were among the many Central-sponsored schemes aimed at bettering the lives of the people of the Capital, but blocked due to petty politics... we will tell the people about this,” he added.

New approach

After the defeat in Jharkhand, the initial strategy has been “modified” to a large extent, said sources.

A cross-section of leaders and sources told The Hindu that the party, which has been out of power in Delhi for over two decades, had initially sought to embark upon an aggressive, mainly national, electoral campaign. It will now be “relatively muted” and “more multi-faceted”, they said.

The upcoming election has been quickly pegged by the party as a direct battle between PM Modi and CM Kejriwal — by erecting over 21,000 hoardings bearing the PM’s face to reinforce his claim of having “removed the blot of being unauthorised” from the foreheads of the residents of 1,731 colonies.

Party insiders said the move was taken not only due to the loss in Jharkhand but also because of the lesson it learnt by projecting a “CM face” in the last Assembly elections. It had projected Kiran Bedi as the CM face.

Subsequent steps in regard to its “evolving” strategy are in line with ongoing Assembly seat-specific surveys, which have revealed that the average voter is “not as responsive” to criticism of the AAP government’s power and water subsidy schemes as expected, said a leader.

But the voters were “very enthused” with criticism of the allegedly obstructionist attitude of the AAP government when it came to the blocking of Central-sponsored schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, the leader said, adding: “They ask what the BJP has to offer over and above AAP’s subsidies – mainly freebies – and services which have benefited them since it came to power.”

A senior party leader said that while freebies were strictly “out of the question”, the BJP was not averse to subsidising power, water and public transport for “specific categories” of citizens based on socio-economic criteria.

Clarifying “doubts” regarding the CAA, countering the “anti-national” ways of the “tukde-tukde gang” and criticising alleged attempts to “spread violence” by AAP and the Congress, who were “instigating the minority community” in the name of the NRC, will be the main components of the national bit.

Air pollution, quality of potable water and questioning the AAP government’s claims on health, public transportation and education will be the local issues that the party will focus on, the leader said.

“When the party president himself hits the ground as part of a public awareness campaign revolving around the CAA, it is evidence enough of how significant an issue it is for the party. However, the local leadership has been directed to keep its own campaign within the spectrum of local issues and when it comes to the CAA, to mainly take forward the campaign initiated by Mr. Shah,” a source said.

“It would be wrong to say that the CAA and the NRC will not be electoral factors for the party in Delhi. But it would also be incorrect to say that these will be the only issues on the basis of which we will seek votes,” a senior party leader added.

Another senior leader said that a month was a long time in politics and the party’s strategy would continue to evolve due to the “significant decisions” taken by the Modi government over the last six months.

A senior leader said that the conferment of ownership rights to the residents of unauthorised colonies and the in-situ rehabilitation of slum clusters would remain the mainstay of its campaign as they represented “an intersection” of both national and local political issues as well as “evidence” of the BJP “delivering on the promises it makes”.

Subsidy schemes

“As far as the AAP government’s subsidy schemes are concerned, the BJP is more likely to modify them in a way that is sustainable as well as ensures that they benefit those depending on socio-economic criteria instead of a free-for-all in lieu of their votes,” the leader added.

Academician and political analyst Manisha Priyam said the PM’s face was the party’s best bet. “The Lok Sabha election saw the BJP sweeping all seven seats in the city in the name of the PM... Given the fact that the Delhi BJP unit does not have a leader who can cater to the average Delhiite, the PM’s face is certainly the party’s best bet,” he said.

Professor Pradip Kumar Datta of the Centre for Comparative Politics & Political Theory, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the BJP’s dilemma stemmed from the “constituency specific” appeal of its local leaders. “Like the Congress, the BJP, as a large national party, has not allowed any local leader to become popular enough to be its face in Delhi. The BJP’s winning card was and remains Mr. Modi. But his magic seems to be waning,” he said.

While the issue of unauthorised colonies was a big advantage for the BJP and could offset the AAP’s advantage in terms of the work it had done in regard to schools and the city’s health sector, he said, the BJP was currently amidst a “crisis of credibility” given the larger scenario prevailing in the country.

“There is an undeclared economic crisis, there is the issue of jobs and prices of commodities; remember – the price of onions brought a government down in this very city – but these issues do not seem to be reflecting as a concern for the government. This has created a crisis of credibility,” he said further.

The ‘Modi card’, Professor Datta added, would work among the middle class and upper middle class but the need of the hour for the BJP was “a wave” which could only a possibility given a “communal conflagration.”

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 11:44:33 AM |

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