BJP fought 2013 election in 2015
by Sandhya Jain on 24 Feb 2015 16 Comments

If one were to identify a single cause for the rout of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi earlier this month, it would be the astonishing fact that it fought this year’s election in a time warp of 2013, refusing to acknowledge, much less address, the crippling problems facing the citizenry, and relying solely on the Prime Minister’s popularity to overcome the sloth that helped keep the Congress in power for 15 years. The Aam Aadmi Party, despite the campaign tumult, kept an Arjun-like focus on the unmoving eye of the fish, and rode to victory.


In 2004 and 2009, the BJP leaders shunned honest introspection for the defeats; in 2013, the Delhi unit avoided examining the reasons for failure to ride the rising ‘Modi wave’. With BJP stuck at 31 seats, the AAP moved into the vacuum with Congress support.


Many analysts have suggested that the BJP failed by not conducting the Delhi election soon after the Lok Sabha victory, and by changing the formula of not announcing a leader before the polls. This argument is flawed. The BJP won Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra due to discontent with incumbent regimes. In Jharkhand, it had to find a new leader because frontrunner Arjun Munda lost; in Haryana and Maharashtra, there was no predominant leader and the party was forming the government in both States for the first time.


Dr Harshvardhan, a former president of the Delhi unit, has a clean image and is popular in his constituency. But there is no one of the stature of Madan Lal Khurana. When Delhi citizens checked the Modi wave in 2013, BJP failed to realise they were angry at the corruption of the Sheila Dikshit regime and BJP’s silent complicity throughout her 15 year reign.


Mr Arvind Kejriwal tapped this deep resentment in 2013 and again, more successfully, in 2015. The argument that the Prime Minister should have shunned international engagements for a city-state poll is misplaced. More repulsive is the allegation that his celebrated pin-stripe suit (recently sold for a handsome Rs 4.31 crore for Namami Ganga) contributed to the debacle.


One important event is the appointment of Satish Upadhyay as Delhi unit president one day before Mr Amit Shah took over as party president. This pre-emptive move at the behest of unnamed godfathers made him BJP’s frontrunner until Mr Arvind Kejriwal’s noisy charges about Mr Upadhyay owning firms selling allegedly ‘fast’ meters to the discoms upset his applecart.


The Modi-Shah duo erred in making a glorified municipal election a matter of prestige. They were misled to believe that Ms Kiran Bedi (retired Indian Police Service) could puncture the Kejriwal juggernaut, when it would have been wiser to retreat. You cannot sew a silk purse from a sow’s ear; the Delhi BJP geriatrics with ambitious progeny and protégés were not worth saving. Kiran Bedi carried very negative baggage. She had been indulged by the authorities on account of being the first woman IPS officer; protected even after an adverse report by Justice DP Wadhwa on the police lathi-charge on lawyers at Tis Hazari in 1988. As chief ministerial candidate, she rebuffed advice to make conciliatory noises to the legal community and alienated an important constituency.


More serious are news reports that she allowed foreign journalists to meet Kashmiri separatists in Tihar jail, and abandoned her post in Mizoram after sparking protests over snatching a medical seat for her daughter, who later dropped out. A former Indian ambassador has stated on social media (Twitter) that as a serving IPS officer she would come to Dubai to raise funds for her NGO, which is against service rules.


Ms Bedi made gaffes throughout the campaign. She dodged a debate with Mr Kejriwal after asserting willingness to engage; the bravado that she would debate him on the floor of the Assembly fell flat with her personal defeat. After alienating the rank and file with her behaviour (her election in-charge Narendra Tandon briefly quit in disgust), she announced she had speaking engagements lined up at Harvard if she lost! And after the rout she said the BJP, and not she, had been defeated! Nothing more need be said about this ‘masterstroke’.


She pre-empted the party manifesto with a vacuous ‘vision statement’; the BJP compounded the error with a vision document which did not address citizens’ anxieties on the burning issues of electricity costs and water supply. A popular loyalist like Navjot Singh Sidhu would have appealed to the city’s variegated populace across age, caste, class and regional barriers, without alienating the cadres.


The AAP showed greater understanding of the capital’s non-denominational character and got energetic youngsters as candidates and volunteers. Months before the poll, it ran an aggressive campaign on multiple platforms, where Mr Kejriwal apologised for his premature resignation, explained that he lacked a majority, and sought a full mandate. He shifted to campaign promises and was already in fifth gear by the time the election was announced.


In 2013, AAP was deflated by a well-timed sting operation, lost momentum for four crucial days, which hurt its overall tally. This time, it remained unfazed over allegations of unexplained donations to the party account and limited the issue to television studios. Throughout, the BJP campaign failed to take off. A fortnight after the trouncing, Mr Upadhyaya and team remain in office.


Much has been said about the failures of the BJP-run Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Delhi does not meet basic UN norms for health, planning and civic amenities. Despite admitting that parking lot contractors were profiting from doubled parking rates, the Corporations did not revert to the old rates and give relief to citizens. The much-despised bus rapid transit corridor runs parallel to the metro and is thus totally redundant; but BJP seems comatose.


As Mr Arvind Kejriwal moves to fulfill his promises, he must reveal that New Delhi Municipal Corporation, an unelected body under the Centre, provides Lutyens Delhi 24-hour water and electricity at a rate that lets one run four air conditioners for about Rs 5000/month!


New Delhi Municipal Corporation was created as a prelude to isolating Lutyens Delhi (essentially pin code 110001) and making it alone the capital of India, under the Central government.


Full statehood for the leftover rump, minus the prestige and resources of the Centre, would make Lohardaga look like Shanghai. Mr Kejriwal’s challenge is to erase the distinctions and provide the same amenities to the whole of Delhi. His success will determine the trajectory of his political future.

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