‘Polarised’ campaign, no CM face hurt BJP

BJP can no longer rely on Modi to win states as Delhi reiterated this even more firmly

‘Polarised’ campaign, no CM  face hurt BJP

Vibha Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 11

Despite giving the Delhi elections all it had, the BJP could not cross the single-digit mark in the 70-member Assembly. The party saw a good increase in vote share compared to the 2015 elections. However, the party that won all seven seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections failed to convert the gains eight months down the line against incumbent CM Arvind Kejriwal in bipolar elections against AAP, with a missing Congress adding to its disadvantage.

lessons for party 

  • Plan Assembly campaigns on local issues, not national ones

  • Polarisation is double-edged sword; AAP benefited from counter-polarisation

  • Negative campaigns backfire

  • Can no longer rely on Prime Minister Modi to win states

Seen as a verdict on the campaign Home Minister Amit Shah led from the front, the results hold several messages for the saffron leadership, a hint of which came from its ideological fountainhead (the RSS) a couple of days ago. According to Sangh's second-in-command Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi, the BJP was not “synonymous” with the Hindu community and moves to oppose the party should not be assumed as opposing Hindus. The statement came amid nationwide face-off over the CAA and Shaheen Bagh, which the BJP made centrepiece of its campaign.

This, in fact, is also the biggest lesson the BJP can draw from its “polarising” campaign, revolving around “nationalism/Hindutva” and labelling Kejriwal a “terrorist”, besides calling it an “India versus Pakistan” election and AAP supporters “anti-national and anti-Hindu”. “It is quite natural that results will be read as the first verdict of the Narendra Modi-led NDA's controversial decision - Citizenship Amendment Act, which Shah spearheaded in its 2.0 avtaar,” say observers.

In fact, Delhi holds numerous messages for BJP's politics at the national level. Ramping up 'Hindutva' and anti-Pakistan rhetoric, PM Modi's oratory, calling Opposition anti-nationals, lining up 'Hindutva' poster boys and VIP leaders may fire up cadres, but will they impress voters, that is the question.

Mistakes in Delhi hold other lessons for Modi and Shah. For one, the party's lack of local leadership and local/legitimate issues are now showing. Though BJP's new president JP Nadda and state president Manoj Tiwari have owned up the defeat in the fight led by Shah, Delhi results are a wakeup call for the leadership ahead of Assembly elections in Bihar and West Bengal.

The party can no longer rely on Prime Minister Modi to win states, Delhi has reiterated this even more firmly after Jharkhand and Haryana, where it barely scraped through in the last Assembly elections.

For Shah, every election is a do-or-die battle and that is how he ran the Delhi campaign. The results suggest the saffron party also needs a rethink on its brand of “polarising strategy”. “People will reward good work, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. The party also needs to groom local/regional leaders who can connect and take the narrative to masses,” say observers.

While BJP leadership figures out where they went wrong, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and now Delhi may have given its rivals just the perfect recipe, the template to take on Modi and Shah.

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