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Desperately seeking victory in Delhi

SPEED BUMP? “A loss in Delhi could slow down, if not derail, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's aggressive expansion strategy.” Picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP president Amit Shah and Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay at a rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. File photo

SPEED BUMP? “A loss in Delhi could slow down, if not derail, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's aggressive expansion strategy.” Picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP president Amit Shah and Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay at a rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. File photo   | Photo Credit: Meeta Ahlawat

The Modi-Shah duo’s style of completely centralised decision-making is being put to the test in the Delhi Assembly election

On the morning of February 6, newspaper readers in the capital woke up to a full >opening page advertisement lauding the Narendra Modi government’s eight months in power. Released by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the advertisement listed the Central government’s achievements with a large photograph of Mr. Modi dominating the centre of the page and a relatively smaller one of the party’s chief ministerial candidate in Delhi, >Kiran Bedi, at the bottom. The size and placement of the two photographs spelt out not just the importance of Mr. Modi over Ms Bedi in the Delhi Assembly election, but also the size of their relative stakes in it. The advertisement was by no means the first or the last one in the BJP’s high-pitched campaign, but it chose to showcase the Modi government in a local election despite top-notch party leaders repeating ad nauseam that this election is not a referendum on Mr. Modi. Their actions, however, conveyed a different message throughout the campaign.

Desperation to win

The party pushed nearly all its Cabinet Ministers and 120 Members of Parliament into the campaign. Those who had risen from being party spokespersons when the BJP was out of power to being Ministers in the government were back to playing their earlier roles. Later on February 6, around 10.30 p.m., the party issued a list of 10 rhetorical >questions for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This was the last set of questions released by the BJP before Delhi’s voters cast the ballot. The nature of the questions showed that the BJP was abandoning its pitch for development and taking a desperate communal turn. It accused the AAP of wanting to give away Kashmir to Pakistan, insulting the memory of a police inspector killed in the Batla House encounter, giving tickets to supporters of terrorists and so on. The party had launched the exercise on January 30, with its leaders releasing a set of five questions everyday for the AAP to answer. The earlier questions had dealt with the party’s performance in government, its funding, and its leader Arvind Kejriwal using government-provided accommodation and security, despite promises to the contrary, in his 49-day stint as Chief Minister.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates had provided the infighting-infested BJP with over a lakh volunteers for the campaign. The likes of Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal were already out seeking votes for the BJP in the name of Hindutva. The party, which had stuck to the promise of development at least in its publicity pitch, showed its desperation when it made the move late night on February 6 to win the election at all costs.

Despite Delhi being half a State, the BJP has put its entire might into the election. If it does not win conclusively, this will be its fifth consecutive Assembly election in the capital without forming a government. With merely 70 seats in the Assembly and seven Lok Sabha constituencies, Delhi does not account for much on the ground. But in terms of the perception battle, it ranks really high. It is not just the seat of power; it is also the headquarters for most national TV news channels and newspapers. The BJP came to power by winning the perception battle against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in 2014. Also, the Anna Hazare-headed anti-corruption movement originated in Delhi and became a success here.

But more than the disproportionate importance of the capital in national politics or the Delhi BJP’s need to end its losing streak, it is Mr. Modi and his protégé, party president Amit Shah, who >need to win Delhi. Together they brought in Ms Bedi as the party’s chief ministerial candidate without as much as informing the Delhi unit of the party. The party’s highest decision-making body, the Parliamentary Board, was not in the picture, nor was the Central Election Committee, when the former police officer joined the party. In less than a week’s time, the Parliamentary Board and the Election Committee meekly endorsed a decision that had already been taken.

Formula put to the test

The Modi-Shah duo’s style of completely centralised decision-making is being put to the test in this election. So is the formula of bringing in rank outsiders from other parties who hold sway in pockets, whether region, caste or class-based. The party used the formula successfully under Mr. Shah in Uttar Pradesh when many former Congressmen won the Lok Sabha election on BJP tickets. Some senior leaders contend the general mood in the rank and file of the party is that discards from other parties are being brought in and rewarded. This is being done at the cost of those who have seen the party through years of being out of power and have worked for it, they say. A loss in Delhi could slow down, if not derail, this aggressive expansion strategy.

The elections could have a direct impact on the BJP’s prospects in Bihar, which goes to polls later this year. What is currently unfolding in Bihar with the party’s tacit support is an illustration of the BJP’s ambition to unsettle existing governments and wrest power in more States. The Modi-Shah plan of party expansion at the cost of old allies has been questioned by many in the party, but no serious objections have been raised from within the party yet. The BJP’s successes in Assembly elections post May 2014 have silenced whatever little opposition there could have been to this dual strategy of alienating both allies and old-timers. With a loss in Delhi, that could begin to change. If the BJP succeeds in Delhi, it will again start working on pulling down the U.P. and Punjab governments ahead of time, something that it has been preparing the ground for since May 2014.

jatin.gandhi@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 3:18:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/desperately-seeking-victory-in-delhi/article6871557.ece

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