The BJP cannot go back to the drawing board. There is no room left there. In overexertion, it has run a parade of its entire political and ideological arsenal on the streets of Delhi. The result was a crushing defeat in the Delhi assembly polls where it failed to register double digits.
The party is a double-incumbent at the Centre, with the massively popular Narendra Modi at the helm. It only recently made light work of the opposition in the Lok Sabha elections. Its muscular hold on large sections of the media and social media has made all kinds of psychological nausea highly communicable – to unprecedented success. It’s the richest and largest national party with a famously relentless and insatiable ambition for power and its dream sequence: the Hindu Rashtra.
So why was the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP – a regional stable with a laughable fraction of its opponent’s resources – able to hand the BJP this historic humiliation?
While the RSS rolls strong, the BJP is definitely on the wane. Modi’s popularity won it ten years at the Centre, but loss after loss in the assembly elections would concern its ideological overlords. These setbacks have occurred in an extremely diverse set of regions: Jharkhand, Delhi, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. All these states and regions comprise different cultures, local voter concerns and demographics; most of them have previously hosted BJP governments.
The loss of clout can be observed through a few parameters. The BJP has quietly and fully abandoned its previously trumpeted development narrative because there is scant to show. The optics of a party touting progress, while unemployment is breaking all-time statistical records under its rule, is terribly transparent and hence the BJP has grudgingly left that alone. Unfortunately, for them, the resultant vacuum is starting to be occupied by the opposition, especially in the states.
They found it hard to attack Kejriwal with their usual devices. He was impossible to be pigeonholed as an ‘anti-national’ or as anti-Hindu. He could not be painted as anti-army or pro-Pakistan. Several BJP leaders called him a ‘terrorist’, but this absurdity did not click in a city which only last year had delivered all seven of its MPs to BJP.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has carefully sculpted an image of a doer. Comparisons to Sardar Patel and even Chanakya have been made. Much effort has gone into him being positioned as a hardcore operator and super strategist; someone who rapidly fashions patchwork coalitions on the anvil of money and influence; someone who breaks governments and bullies his way through. Contemporary standards, which value functional ruthlessness, would call him a winner.
This was taken away from him by Sharad Pawar. The dramatic conclusion of the Maharashtra elections in terms of the final government formation in Mumbai disfigured Shah’s image and made him look like a political amateur – by the same contemporary standards. This was followed by the loss in the Jharkhand and Delhi polls.
In the Delhi campaign, Shah urged his followers to send a metaphorical ‘current’ through Shaheen Bagh, where a remarkable and peaceful women’s movement against his policies is taking place since the last two months. He failed again, and is already being mocked, whereby his reputation earlier was that of a man who needs to be feared by all and sundry.
Indeed, he is now a certified non-Chanakya.
These interesting developments are compounded by international news. India is falling sharply across global indices under the BJP rule. Global hunger, press freedom, happiness and global competitiveness are some yardsticks whereby Modi’s India has an abysmal record. Medical horror stories have poured in from Yogi Adityanath’s UP, which has become a microcosm of the Sangh’s worst politics. A systematically nourished communalism, leading to a high number of mob-lynchings, has not helped the BJP’s international image as an FDI-attracting red-tape cutter. The CAA and NRC are finding serious misgivings abroad, especially in the West.
The dramatic conclusion of the Maharashtra elections disfigured Shah’s image and made him look like a political amateur. This was followed by the loss in the Jharkhand and Delhi polls.
When a party carrying such a baggage encountered the AAP in a localised Delhi election, its cracks began to bleed compulsively and publicly. They could not say they are for development, because AAP’s work on issues like running water, free electricity, healthcare, minimum wages and education was a stronger argument. They could not promise better leaders than the AAP, as their regional party president is the unproven former ‘Big Boss’ contestant, Manoj Tiwari. Attacking the Congress – something the BJP is founded on and superb at — was a waste of energy in Delhi.
Most importantly, they found it hard to attack Kejriwal with their usual devices. He was impossible to be pigeonholed as an ‘anti-national’ or as anti-Hindu. The daily lie by Yogi that he was distributing Biriyani at Shaheen Bagh simply did not stick. He could not be painted as anti-army or pro-Pakistan.
Several BJP leaders called him a ‘terrorist’ during campaigning, but this absurdity did not click in a city which only last year had delivered all seven of its MPs to the ruling party. Irony reigned supreme every time the BJP labelled Kejriwal or anyone else unsafe or dishonest.
The BJP, a supremacist political grouping carrying a heavily marked and underlined copy of the European fascist handbook, threw everything they know at Delhi. There were terror attacks in universities in collusion with Shah’s police, the Jamia campus was attacked, its library was ransacked by the cops and students studying peacefully were brutally beaten up, a student was shot in Jamia by a Hindutva fanatic following a provocative slogan by a BJP Union minister in an election meeting, heads of a female geography professor in JNU and the JNUSU president, both women, were split wide open by masked goons reportedly belonging to the ABVP, Shaheen Bagh was defemed as a den of traitors and rapists, and rhetorical calls to shoot opponents were given by sitting MPs and the UP chief minister.
Ironically, all for merely 8 out of 70 seats in the national capital.
Modi’s political culture is groaning under its own weight. It is only now noticing that even hatred can lose elections. This, for the BJP, is an alien and very frightening thought.
They have run through all their formulae and, with empty back-pockets, have no route to take except push faster into their existing one. And so it is an even more frightening thought for their targets, who are aware of how and why some wars are started and some emergencies imposed.
In February 2020, the BJP’s drawing board seems exhausted. They have shredded the economy even as their electoral losses have bought other parties more time to prove that work really matters and lies are finally caught.