Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Manoj Tiwari Wednesday dismissed reports that he offered to step down after the party’s crushing defeat in the Delhi elections in which it won only eight seats.
There are voices growing within the party for an “organisational overhaul” in the national capital. The party could improve its 2015 Assembly election tally only by five seats, while losing one seat in the process.
Several senior leaders blamed the loss to delay in starting the election campaign, weak organisational setup and the state units “inability” to counter the freebies doled out by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government. Another big reason for loss, some said, was the move to contest without a chief minister face.
The BJP had a high-pitch, hyper local campaign micromanaged by Union home minister Amit Shah, who attended roadshows and public meetings in 60-plus assembly constituencies in two weeks. Close to 200 MPs, sitting and former chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and Union ministers campaigned aggressively in what was considered a prestige battle for the party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two rallies and BJP chief JP Nadda campaigned in 70 constituencies.
“This (eight seats and 40% vote share) is the best you can get after a 15-day-long campaign,” a senior BJP leader remarked.
Another senior BJP leader requesting anonymity said, “The AAP started its campaign soon after its defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. By the time we started, there wasn’t enough time to tell people about our schemes promised in our manifesto.”
In what many leaders say should have been the “easiest election” as the party had won all seven parliamentary constituencies in Delhi in 2019 for the second time with huge margins, it failed to counter AAP’s “politics of freebies”. “We lost our strongholds due to the water and electricity subsidy and free bus ride (for women). We didn’t counter it properly. In the last six months, we should have exposed the AAP on these issues,” said a former MLA.
Another issue many state unit leaders said was “weak organisation”. “All our seniors campaigned. If the state unit is not in order what can they do? There is a need for an overhaul and a strong state leadership in Delhi,” said a senior leader.
Tiwari said, “We did our best. Maybe there was a delay in releasing our sankalp patra (manifesto). We will analyse our performance. But we have bettered our performance as we got 40% of the total votes. BJP never got this in the past state polls.”
It is not the first time the party has lost an election despite “favourable political scenario”. In 2008, due to infighting, senior leaders say, the party couldn’t take on Sheila Dikshit’s government. In 2013, while Rajya Sabha member Vijay Goel was the Delhi BJP chief, the party had announced Harsh Vardhan, now Union health minister as its chief ministerial candidate. The party was the single largest party, but lost the chance to form the government in Delhi by a whisker. The party suffered a humiliating defeat in 2015 despite coming to power at the Centre in 2014 due to “infighting” and “poor decision in ticket distribution”.
Many now question the decision to bank on Purvanchalis, a term used to refer to people from eastern UP and Bihar. The BJP had made Tiwari its state chief in 2016 hoping to garner the support of the community, considered to be AAP’s support base. For the first time, the BJP fielded 11 Purvanchali candidates. “We didn’t get their support and partially lost our base among Baniyas and Punjabis too. We lost the entire rural belt,” said a senior leader.
But Tiwari disagrees. “We got the support of the community,” he said. “Of the eight seats we won, six are from my constituency and the neighbouring constituency which has the highest percentage of Purvanchalis.”
Despite the difference of opinion, all BJP leaders were united on the decision to run a high-octane campaign on “nationalism” by raising the abrogation of Article 370, Ram temple, triple talaq and Citizenship (Amendment) Act. “The increased vote share is due to the focus on nationalism,” said a senior leader.
Tanvir Aeijaz, associate professor in the department of political science at Ramjas College, said, “The BJP has not understood the evolving character of Delhi with the influx of migrants in the last few years. People associate them with identity politics and AAP presented an alternative model and addressed their issues. There was an AAP wave this time, too. Had BJP countered on livelihood issues, they would have got more seats.”