The Outcome of Delhi Elections Will Set the Tone and Tenor of Future Electoral Battles
Sometimes small is not only beautiful but can be quite brutal when the occasion rises. A tiny ant can kill a mammoth elephant as the fable goes. That is why the battle for the picayune capital city—1,484 square km compared to India’s 2,973,190 square km—has become a challenge of both credibility and survival for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The city sends just three MPs to the 242-member Rajya Sabha and seven to the 542-member Lok Sabha. Delhi doesn’t even enjoy the status of a full-fledged state. In theory, its local dynamics can hardly influence the omnipotent political establishment of 7 RCR and Raisina Hills. The Prime Minister, however, may not relish the idea of an ardent adversary sharing the high table with visiting dignitaries from all over the world. It is obvious that both Narendra Modi and his trusted political magician Amit Shah are taking no chances with the outcome of the Delhi Assembly elections. They know not only is every vote precious but each and every individual with either celebrity status or a community tag matters greatly in the poll calculus.
Last week when Modi welcomed Kiran Bedi, India’s first female IPS officer, into the saffron fold, he was sending a clear message to Delhi’s voters and his party that he wasn’t confident of any current state leader delivering the capital to the BJP. In Delhi, the party has been stuck in a quagmire for the past two decades, having been taken over by nouveau riche upstart politicians who have never sweated for the party, but instead have only managed to become rich and famous in more ways than one. Despite an urge for change, the party could not win a majority in the Delhi Assembly polls. Modi feels a victory in his new habitat would enable him to formalise the formation of a genuine Modi Sarkar in which a Modi-fied state BJP would play a pivotal role. When the Modi-Shah duo decided to induct Bedi along with AAP rebels, and a few minor minority leaders, the idea was to empower those who did not belong to any local faction. Additionally, it was an attempt to give a liberal patina of ‘swatch’ gloss and glamour to the colour of the saffron party, whose many local leaders have tainted reputations of various sorts. One of the most successful grand masters of game-changers ever, Modi is trying to repackage the BJP to recapture its market share in the capital.
His aggressive marketing strategy has been put in place only after proper research and serious study of Delhi’s social, political and economic layers. Though it may sound like an overstatement, Team Modi knows that the outcome of Delhi elections will set the tone for future electoral battles and generate positive perception about the acceptability of the Central leadership among Delhi voters. Empirically, the party that wins Delhi eventually wins India. In 1993, the BJP stormed into power by sweeping the Delhi Assembly elections. Three years later, it also formed the government at the Centre and won in many other states later. It tasted victory again in the Lok Sabha when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister for the second time in 1998. But six months later, the party lost Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The BJP did defeat the Congress in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, but the victory had more to do with the patriotic exultation over India’s Kargil victory than any popular love for the party’s local units. In 2003, even after ‘India Shining’ was spun as a web of enchantment to mesmerise the masses, the BJP lost the state elections for the second time. A year later in 2004, it lost not only six of the seven Delhi Lok Sabha seats but its majority in Parliament as well. The triumph of the Congress was further consolidated by a third consecutive win in the Delhi elections in 2008. A year later, it grabbed all of Delhi’s Lok Sabha seats in 2009, which contributed to the formation of the UPA II.
BJP’s fortunes, however, regained the glow soon after the Congress was washed away in the Delhi polls in December 2013. Not only did the BJP become the single largest party in the Assembly, it won all Lok Sabha seats in the capital in May 2014. Modi is not in the mood to suffer any setback in Indraprastha, especially after his uninterrupted winning spree in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, and to some extent in Jammu and Kashmir. Both Modi and Shah are a tad disappointed with the party’s failure to secure a majority on its own in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. The two titans have made it clear that securing a comfortable majority in Delhi is their top priority because it will set the tone for the elections in Bihar and Assam scheduled to be held later this year, followed by West Bengal and a couple of other states. Modi’s mandate mantra is “chalo chalein Modi ke saath”.
Setting new records is not only his predilection but his mission as well. He wants to break Indira Gandhi’s record, when under her, the Congress ruled not just India but more than two-thirds of the states too, including the big ones at the same time. He has already created history by placing eight BJP chief ministers (its highest ever tally) in Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Jharkhand. The BJP is part of the ruling front in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. Modi and Shah realise that it is difficult for the party to achieve any meaningful verdicts in Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and some of the north-eastern states even if massive communal polarisation happens in any of them. They are also aware of the dangers, which a united Janata Parivar can pose in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Since the process of forging a powerful anti-Modi confederacy has started in earnest, the Prime Minister is determined to demoralise and deflate their enthusiasm by scoring a big win in Delhi. Modi is like a political Eratosthenes who realises that like the earth, the globe of power is also round, and the road to Delhi’s throne in 2019 can end in Delhi only if the new journey begins from the destination itself.
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