Analysis | Defeat of BJP in Delhi election points to lack of strong face and local narrative in States

The Delhi BJP office in New Delhi on February 11, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) sixth consecutive loss in an Assembly poll — although the party managed to form a government in Haryana — points now to a very real problem for the party going into Assembly polls. Whether in a direct fight with the Congress or a regional player like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the BJP’s performance in State elections has been sub par as per its own previous records. The Indian voter across States seems to be making a very clear distinction between State and national-level elections, as made clear even by the Assembly polls in Odisha, where the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Naveen Patnaik won a record fifth term in the midst of a Modi wave.

PM’s campaign

Newly elected BJP president J.P. Nadda does have a problem on his hands as the State-level narrative of the party has not been as appealing as that of Prime Minister Modi at the national level, so much so that even Mr. Modi’s campaign in Jharkhand and Haryana did not manage to lift the party’s fortunes (more so in Jharkhand than Haryana, to be honest).

One reason put forward by BJP seniors is the fact that State units in both Jharkhand and Delhi have had festering issues of infighting, as did the the Maharashtra unit of the party going into the polls. Many of these issues were not addressed and, specifically in Delhi, it was felt that while Lok Sabha MP Manoj Tiwari was made State unit chief as a concession to the large number of Poorvanchali votes, it was the old Punjabi leadership of the BJP that prevailed. “Even when issues are addressed, it has been cosmetic,” said a source. He pointed out to the announced merger of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (P) led by the Babulal Marandi with the BJP, to be done on February 17, as a case in point. “This should have been done much earlier,” he said.

Also read | Jharkhand result extends Assembly election jinx of BJP | BJP faces stiff challenges

Opposition’s advantage

According to political analyst Rahul Verma, co-author of the well-regarded book Ideology and Identity, the BJP going into polls without Prime Minister Modi’s strong presence is a problem for the party. “Prime Minister Modi is the most charismatic face that the BJP has and has a proven record of affecting the vote, but when it comes to faces in the State level, the Opposition has an advantage, which is going to be the case in the upcoming elections too,” he said.

The most important point, apart from the lack of a strong face in States, is also the lack of a local narrative for the BJP, making it rely on national issues time and again. “Every election has one narrative that dominates over another and in the last few elections, the Opposition’s narrative has been strong both in terms of aspiration and performance. That has been true whether the party comes up against the Opposition’s Chief Minister or contender,” said a senior BJP leader. “Organisationally, the party is a well-oiled machine, but that is never enough to win polls. You need a story that the people identify with, and Prime Minister Modi’s story is about national aspirations,” said the source.

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Just as important

While the national narrative of the BJP is in no peril, State elections are just as important if the BJP wants to dominate Indian politics, as well as subsequent numbers in the Rajya Sabha. For that, Mr. Nadda may well have to dip into the playbook of the old BJP led by late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and senior BJP leader L. K. Advani, when the last crop of strong regional leadership was cultivated by the party.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 4:30:57 AM |

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