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Monday, April 12, 2021

Two obvious questions after Delhi elections

If you take a look at the key takeaways from the 2020 Delhi Election, it leaves us with two obvious questions: The once invincible BJP now can be beaten ? and Is Kejriwal the person who can beat Modi in 2024 parliament election? First, here are the takeaways:

  1. Even Though, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lost the seat share, it kept its vote share. AAP got 54.3% in 2015, Now, they got 53.5%. In terms of the seats, the number decreased from 67  to 62. 
  2. BJP not only increased its seat share, but also increased the vote share. The BJP got 32.5% in 2015, Now, they got 38.7 now%. A 6.2% jump in the vote share. In terms of the seats, the number increased from 3 to 8. 
  3. So who is the biggest loser? Its congress.

Before we answer the two obvious questions, we need to put some context around the topic. 

So first look at the the context in which the election is fought:

From the BJP side, the campaign was organized with  an entire brigade of ‘nationalists’. Some estimates point out almost 250 members of parliament are part of the campaign. The BJP’s campaign was on the anti-CAA protests with Sha-heen Bagh as the focus where women have been sitting on an agitation for almost two months. Amit Shah, for example “urged people to press the button on the EVM so hard that its current would be felt at Shaheen Bagh forcing protesters to leave. On one occasion, BJP MP Parvesh Saheb Singh called the Chief Minister Kejirwal a terrorist.

On the other side, AAP campaign revolved around Kejriwal’s appeal that is based on his work in the last 5 years.  This is not to suggest, Kejriwal entirely relied on the developmental report to ask for votes. Since 2015, Kejriwal re-branded himself, as one who can offer a peculiar, de-ideologised mix of robust nationalism, subtle Hinduism and pro-poor welfarism. This projected Kejriwal and his party as a more inclusive Right-of-centre. I have to remind you that we have witnessed Kejriwal’s stand on Article 370. He totally supported the repeal. And you must have heard him repeatedly  chanting Hanuman during the campaign. These combination of factors I believe firmly positioned Kejriwal as a robust alternative to the BJP’s polarizing Hindutva politics.

Also remember, this election happened during the time Indian National Congress is in a deep leadership crisis. Very specifically, the inability of Rahul Gandhi to be seen as a leader of substance meant the main opposition leader position is vacant. 

It is these combinations of factors that led to AAP’s victory in the state election. I am sure, it has made the BJP realize the voters clearly  distinguish between their choice between who should rule the state and the Centre. This is particularly important because the loss of Delhi election is not the first loss for BJP at the state level. Take these examples: 

In 2014, along with the parliament elections, state elections happened in Odisha. During this season, The BJP won eight of the 21 seats in the Lok Sabha with 38.4 percent votes but could manage only 23 of 147 seats at the state assembly level with 32.5 percent of the votes. Similarly, Jharkhand state assembly elections happened 6 months after 2019 lok sabha elections. BJP won 11 of the 14 seats in Jharkhand in the Lok Sabha polls and however could not retain power in the Assembly in elections. This trend should matter to the BJP as there are upcoming assembly elections in Bihar and West Bengal. Elections in Bihar are due later this year and West Bengal goes to the polls next year. 

Now, as the context is set, let’s take a look at the first question. Is the once invincible BJP now able to be beaten ?

The answer is yes. Former BJP leader Arun Shourie had famously called the BJP, Congress plus cow. While explaining the causes of congress drastic demise on Indian Political Canvas, Senior Journalist, Shekar Gupta opines “When Rahul Gandhi goes temple-hopping, it looks like a spectacle, unconvincing, and worst, defensive. As if to say, see, I am Hindu too. This is also why the Left died in West Bengal.” Gupta also says there is a catch here.  “while nationalism plus religion and socialism is a killer combination electorally, none of these are beyond the reach of any of your rivals.” He asserted, the AAP appropriates all the themes and beat BJP at its own game. Kejriwal presented himself as “a non-bigoted, god-fearing Hindu, which is a large majority of Hindus, this is a more convincing expression of religiosity and faith than a “Jai Shri Ram” shouted menacingly or in anger and resentment….. And on nationalism, please do remember that among the first steps the Kejriwal government took was to announce ex-gratia payments to the families of soldiers killed in action at a scale unprecedented in India. 

The big takeaway from this election, according to Gupta “is that the larger Modi-Shah method has been, and can be gamed. Nobody can take Modi away from the BJP. No leader seems to be rising anywhere at this point who could conceivably challenge Modi even in 2024. But you can surely deny them the exclusivity over their winning formula, and make the contest much less one-sided.” 

kejriwal delhi elections,Aam Aadmi Party Election Poster
Image Source: Flickr

Kejirwal cracked the Delhi seat, with a strategy of welfare promise that is proven to be practical. Over the last 5 years, Kejriwal delivered on schools, electricity and basic infrastructure. On the pure welfare front he promised free electricity and free bus rides to women. 

In that sense, the choice before the voters was not purely between governmental performance and an open invitation play a role in electoral division. There is a grey area. So clearly the Delhi verdict, may not mean disapproval of BJP’s “divisive stand”. It indicates that “the alternative to the BJP to be necessarily a softer copy of the BJP itself.”

So based on this premise, let’s take a look at the second obvious question: Is Kejirwal the person who can beat Modi in 2024 parliament election? 

The answer is not a “definitive yes”. The consequent state assembly election outcomes for the BJP led alliances in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi indicate a trend of diminishing political returns for the BJP’s hard ideological agenda. However, it does not indicate anything about the national level contest. The Hindustan times acknowledges “that the BJP is vulnerable at the state level. It should also, by now, be equally clear that defeating the party at the national level will take something else — something that none of the parties or combinations seem to possess at this point.”.

For example: take a look at AAP performance outside of Delhi: We have seen how AAP got humiliated during 2017 in Goa and Punjab state election, In these two states the AAP party made a concerted attempt to expand.

On the other side, the AAP did not change the political ethos in a manner that would make it an attractive alternative. Statistics show that more than 50% of the AAP MLAs winning in the Delhi Assembly Elections 2020 have serious criminal cases against them. According to the Business Standard article, here are the Statistics of AAP MLAs with criminal convictions against them:

  • Number of AAP MLAs won  in 2020 Delhi Assembly Elections – 62
  • MLAs with declared pending criminal cases – 38 which is 61%
  • MLAs with declared serious criminal cases 33 which is 53%. 
  • Number of MLAs who have declared themselves as crorepati: 45 Which is 73%
  • Average size of assets of AAP MLAs: rupees 14 crore. 

All the above points clearly communicate one thing: The BJP has much to learn from AAP about how to be a sane right-wing party. Without indulging in negative rhetoric, Mr Kejriwal and AAP have proved that it is possible to be a decent right-wing party and win elections.

So to answer the question, Is Kejriwal the person who can beat Modi in the 2024 parliament election?  
It could be very likely, he can become a face of the united opposition but It is unlikely that senior leaders like Mamata Banerjee or a Sharad Pawn will cede that space to Kejriwal who is much junior to them. However, unlike established politicians, Kejriwal who is an IITian, an anti corruption champion, and who does not carry the baggage of dynasty, offers a great profile for the aspirational young India.

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