The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has lost an election which was traditionally its stronghold. This is how the results of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) polls could be summed up on one line. The poor turnout of voters in the first place seemed to have pushed the BJP onto the back foot.
More than the anti-incumbency of 15 years, it has been the lack of a credible leadership at the state level that has harmed the saffron party in the national Capital. From a very dominant performance during the Assembly election held in February 2020, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was engaged with the BJP in a cliffhanger in the MCD polls, the latter could have carried the day provided they had a face to project.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot be the sole currency for the party to monetise its performance at every tier of our democratic set-up. The BJP’s experiments with the regional and caste votes without a credible face has failed them now in two consequent elections.
However, despite the shortcoming the BJP did manage to put up a credible show, thanks to the intervention from national president JP Nadda. Close to the beginning of the campaign, Nadda put in place a campaign management committee, which worked hard to expose the deficiencies, especially corruption, in the AAP government.
This aggressive campaign helped the party make up for the lost ground and gained as many as 50 wards where the AAP had led during the 2020 Assembly elections. The matter was made worse for the AAP with the Congress and others gaining 10-15 wards from where the former had led during the 2020 Assembly elections.
Had the local unit of the BJP worked towards dismantling the AAP government with sincerity during the 2020 Assembly polls or the present MCD polls, AAP would have found itself on the Opposition benches. In the 2020 Assembly polls, which was almost a bipolar contest, the BJP, riding high on its performance in the Lok Sabha polls a few months earlier, could have romped home. This did not happen as its Vaishya vote-bank base went with a Bania-led AAP.
Probably this factor weighed heavily in the favour of municipal councillor and former Mayor Adesh Kumar Gupta when he was appointed ahead of more deserving candidates in June 2020 as Delhi BJP president. His assignment was simple: plan for 2022 corporation polls and win it.
Unlike the traditional Baniyas of Delhi, who trace their roots to Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, Gupta comes from Kannauj in central Uttar Pradesh. The Banias, including other castes east of Lucknow are seen to be as Poorvanchal voters. Thus the Vaishya in Delhi even in 2022 MCD polls in larger numbers continued to be with their casteman, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. No wonder the BJP lost all wards in Adesh Gupta’s home turf of Patel Nagar.
The party’s earlier experiment to hoist a Poorvanchal face, Bhojpuri singer-politician Manoj Tiwari, as Delhi unit president too came cropper in the Assembly polls. Then migrant voters from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had decided to stick with the AAP, as they have done now in the 2022 municipal polls too.
The BJP rank and file and its sympathisers were surprised when Manoj Tiwari was appointed head of Delhi unit. Delhi Pradesh BJP since its Jana Sangh days had been looked after by the people who had a firm grounding in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and had qualified from the ranks of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) or other frontal organisations.
On the other hand, Tiwari was a political fortune seeker. He first contested against present Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath from the Gorakhpur seat during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. He was then in the Samajwadi Party, thereafter travelled to the Congress before landing in the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Manoj Tiwari remained party president for almost four years but could never rise beyond his image of a Bhojpuri singer who could win polls. On the other hand, the main rival party continued to be headed by a formidable Arvind Kejriwal.
Coming to the current elections, the results show that the BJP’s best bet continue to be the urban middle class voters, which on the polling day remained indifferent and preferred staying home than coming out to vote. A dynamic local level BJP leadership could have helped in galvanising the voters to come out and vote, which did not happen.
The BJP has had the long tradition of having its leaders from Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). They had the best grooming in the Sangh traditions and also the requisite exposure to city politics.
Their internship of contesting elections across 80 colleges spread over the seven parliamentary constituencies gave them sufficient exposure to the rough and tumble of real-time politics. The BJP is wasting these talents in backing people who either do not have organisational skills or sufficient exposure and network in Delhi.
The writer is an author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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