The battle for Delhi is all set for January-end next year. If you needed a confirmation, it was given in Home Minister Amit Shah’s interview to News18, where he gave sufficient indications for the same. The interview also showed somewhat lack of preparedness on the part of the BJP for the crucial electoral battle for legislative assembly, which the party has to fight in the nation’s Capital.
Shah, who is also the ruling-BJP’s president, talked with aplomb about his party’s chances in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, the states going to polls before Delhi, and about West Bengal, the citadel which he envisages to breach in two years’ time. However, when he was asked about party’s chances in Delhi, he did not unveil a very convincing roadmap.
At first he avoided a direct answer to the question on whether the party would go to polls in Delhi with a chief ministerial face, saying it could be the case, but in the same breath added that it should not be forgotten that the party, after its debacle in 2015 assembly polls, had won the municipal polls in 2017 and also the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
He also said that these victories in 2017 and 2019 were possible because people were fed with the governance of Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the BJP would be the natural beneficiary of the anti-incumbency factor. The benefit transfer which Shah talked about is easy to claim but would be very difficult to achieve.
There is a marked difference between the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 2017 Municipal polls and 2019 Lok Sabha elections which BJP won, and the 2015 Vidhan Sabha polls in which it was trounced. The polls which the BJP won were all triangular contests, with the Congress putting up respectable performance on all three occasions. Whereas in the 2015, the Vidhan polls, which the AAP won getting 67 out of 70 seats in the assembly, saw the Congress garnering just about nine percent votes.
Given the vacuum in Congress leadership both at the Centre and in the state, especially post the demise of former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, AAP has the opportunity to recover from the reverses it faced in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and it has tried grabbing it with both the hands. Given the fratricidal battle being fought within the Delhi Congress, the chances of it entering the poll fray as battle ready outfit is unlikely; thus its share of Muslim and Dalit votes, which it had garnered in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, in the natural course would travel to the AAP.
In such a scenario, it would be very difficult for the BJP to repeat its Lok Sabha 2019 performance in the national Capital. On the other hand, such a situation enhances the chances for the AAP, if not repeat its 2015 performance, at least return to power in the Vidhan Sabha with a comfortable majority.
As the state of affairs prevail today, the middle-class voters who had supported the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls may not come back to the saffron party, especially given the economic downturn. The wounds caused by the economic slowdown have incidentally been dressed well the various ‘subsidy’ schemes of the AAP government.
In times like these, when earnings of the majority of households in the national Capital have touched rock bottom, savings in terms of subsidised power and water bills has come as a big relief in managing family budgets. Moreover, the publicity blitzkrieg which the Kejriwal government has unleashed over its claims of providing quality education in government schools, taking health to grassroots through mohalla clinics and several other such pre-poll initiatives, it may not be out of place to foresee positive winds blowing in its way.
In addition to these, the BJP campaign may also find itself impaired in the absence of a credible face for the Chief Minister’s job. The current local unit president and Lok Sabha MP from North-East Delhi, Manoj Tiwari, is best known for his worth as a colloquial language singer and a politician good at stoking regional sentiments. In fact, he is already at it invoking the need for National Register for Citizens (NRC) in the national Capital, thus raising the religion card.
Among other claimants, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is the only credible face. Unfortunately, the central leadership did not groom leaders to take over from the generation of Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma. While Harsh Vardhan’s growth has been impeded by factional fights, his rival Vijay Goel, a former Union Minister, has never managed to win confidence of the central leaders and has, in turn, never let any if his rival leaders live in peace.
The attempt at bringing somebody from outside had proved catastrophic the last time when then CM face Kiran Bedi had to bite dust in BJP-RSS citadel of Krishna Nagar. To BJP’s advantage is the presence of a very well entrenched cadre of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which is equipped to galvanise the party’s support base.
However, their presence may reap fruits only in the situation of the anti-BJP votes getting divided and pro-BJP votes turning out in maximum numbers. Under the currents scenario though, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the BJP has a tough task at hand in gaining majority in Delhi Vidhan Sabha, which it lost way back in 1998.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst. Views are personal.)