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3-min read

Delhi Result Not a Referendum on CAA, But Kejriwal Ran Away with Ball on PM Modi's 'Vikas' Slogan

The BJP's strong focus on Shaheen Bagh eclipsed the 'vikas' plank which has been integral to all of PM Modi's campaigns. But this time, it was Home minister Amit Shah who took centre-stage and hammered away at CAA-NRC.

Bhavdeep Kang | @BhavKang

Updated:February 12, 2020, 1:29 PM IST
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Delhi Result Not a Referendum on CAA, But Kejriwal Ran Away with Ball on PM Modi's 'Vikas' Slogan
Delhi CM and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal addreses supporters after party's victory in the State Assembly polls, at AAP office in New Delhi. (Image: PTI)

The BJP is drawing cold comfort from an increased vote-share and tighter margins in the Delhi assembly polls, after hoping against hope that the 'Shaheen Bagh' strategy would somehow power the party to victory.

The learnings for the BJP are: first, polarisation is effective only when the rival is willing to play the game; second, polarisation by itself does not work and third, it helps to have a chief ministerial 'face', rather than rely on the Modi factor.

BJP leaders admitted that they had been outfoxed by the Aam Aadmi Party, which neatly side-stepped Shaheen Bagh and kept the agenda strictly local. Despite intense provocation, it steadfastly refused to be sucked into the CAA-NRC issue.

A disgruntled Delhi BJP office-bearer offered an endorsement of the AAP strategy, by accusing it of 'soft hindutva'!

The BJP's strong focus on Shaheen Bagh eclipsed the 'vikas' plank which has been integral to all of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaigns. But this time, it was Home minister Amit Shah who took centre-stage and hammered away at CAA-NRC.

To be fair to Shah, a 'vikas'-centred campaign would most likely have rebounded on the BJP. The AAP has plenty to showcase on the 'vikas' front and ran its campaign on the twin platform of health and education, which accounted for 40% of Delhi's budget allocations — unprecedented in the country.

The BJP, on the other hand, has nothing to show at the local level. The municipal corporations are under the BJP but have no 'vikas' to their credit, thanks to indifferent public outreach. Delhi's electoral history has shown that development and ease of living are important factors in assembly polls.

In fact, the BJP managed to give the AAP a run for its money in some parts of trans-Yamuna, which have suffered most from the massive traffic snarls created by ongoing anti-CAA protests. The denizens of East Delhi are understandably irate.

The CAA, per se, had limited impact. West Delhi MP Parvesh Verma's 'nationalist' rant during the campaign did not influence votes in his area. For the most part, the BJP had no answer to the AAP's minority-plus-poor combination. With the Congress virtually absent from the scene, the minority votes perforce went to AAP.

Community-wise, the BJP retains a measure of support from the Jats and Punjabis, but has failed to build a winning social coalition. Its weak hold on marginal areas and populations – SCs and JJ dwellers – is evident.

For the BJP leadership, the fallout of the election goes beyond its failure to capture its old stronghold. Persistent rumours of a difference of opinion between the PM and his number two on the timing of the CAA have been doing the rounds.

Shah, who took the lead on both CAA and the Delhi elections, is said to have received the backing of the RSS in this instance. The results are a setback for him, particularly given the fact that the BJP won all seven seats in Delhi with a 57 per cent voteshare just eight months ago.

In the aftermath of the poll, BJP insiders will wait and watch, to assess whether relationships at the top are being recalibrated. The presence of a strong-willed organising secretary (who is always an RSS pracharak) after a gap of more than a decade, is bound to affect decision-making. BJP chief JP Nadda is unlikely to enjoy the hegemonistic control exercised by his predecessor.

At the local level, an overhaul of the Delhi BJP is on the cards. The leadership of Manoj Tewari – who was significantly not projected as the CM face – has been questioned for over a year. Brought in (from the Samajwadi Party) to fill the need for a strong 'purbiya' face, he has not managed to reconcile the strident differences in the Delhi unit.

The very fact that the AAP avoided CAA, while the BJP harped on the issue, makes it clear that the election was by no means a referendum on the controversial Act (minority votes would have gone to AAP anyway). It was an endorsement of PM Modi's best-loved slogan, 'vikas'. Unfortunately for the BJP, it was AAP which took the ball and ran with it.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)

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