By all accounts, the forthcoming Delhi elections will be a watershed in so many ways for the BJP. The very fact that party leaders have resorted to calling New Delhi’s chief minister a “terrorist” proves the importance of these elections to the BJP. Shockingly, Union minister Prakash Javadekar, instead of condemning MP Parvesh Verma’s allegation that Arvind Kejriwal is a “terrorist”, repeated the slur during a press conference on Monday.
The BJP leaders are aware that they have little to show on the development front and the only chance they have of defeating the AAP, at this juncture, is the issue of anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh, polarisation and name-calling. This they are doing so at the risk of doing irreparable damage to the psyche of the young voters, creating a wedge between communities, and in a nutshell, pitting citizens against each other, the long-term impact be damned.
Though the party on its own had routed the UPA and its NDA allies had benefited from the 2019 Lok Sabha election results, the fact remains that the BJP had been losing ground, and state after state, since its heyday in 2017.
For the BJP, which won all seven Lok Sabha seats in New Delhi last year, winning the Assembly polls is crucial, not just because it has been out of power in the city-state for over two decades now, but also because Shaheen Bagh has come to symbolise resistance against the march of the saffron brigade with the ongoing anti-CAA protests. By themselves, these two issues have made the Delhi election an issue of prestige by the BJP, but there are other issues too that will have a longer-lasting impact on the party. These factors are behind the decision of the BJP leadership to pull out all stops to win the polls.
The AAP, on its part, has dodged the BJP’s attempts to get it to take a stand on Shaheen Bagh (except for one or two statements) because it doesn’t want the focus to shift from its development plank. Also, the AAP is operating on the assumption that a lot of BJP voters had voted for the party as they were looking for an alternative and not because they subscribe to Hindutva ideology.
It is this set of voters that the AAP is focusing on and it does not want to alienate them by taking a stand on Shaheen Bagh.
The AAP’s refusal to be drawn into the anti-CAA issue has left the BJP with no option but to get increasingly vitriolic since it has little to show in the name of development.
It’s a fact that the BJP won the 2014 elections on Hindutva plus hope — the hope that corruption and the corrupt will end, the hope that they will get good governance, the hope that Narendra Modi will provide decisive leadership. In 2019, it was Hindutva plus hope and also admiration for Mr Modi, who is seen as a very hardworking man that has raised India’s image across the world.
Mr Modi had tapped into the aspirations of the people who had believed that he would fulfil their dreams and also because they were disgusted with the entire Opposition, the corruption and the indecision of the UPA government.
Even now, all surveys say that most people prefer Mr Modi to lead the country and that the core of his followers remain with the Prime Minister. However, the BJP leadership realises that it is no longer Hindutva plus hope, now that the promise of development is gone or because people have experienced the lack of it. Even if Mr Modi manages to turn around the economy in the next four years, or by a miracle, the country grows phenomenally, say at a rate of 10 per cent, will the people give the BJP credit, or will the regional parties allow it to take credit?
The assumption that the development plank will make sense to voters, assuming that the BJP actually achieves development, no longer holds valid, even if the BJP uses its admirable propaganda machinery to convince people. If the campaigns over the last two years in the non-BJP ruled states like Telangana and AP are any indication, those appropriating the benefits of development works taken up by the Centre are the state governments.
For example, if you ask a common man in a non-BJP ruled state about any scheme, he is quite likely to give the credit to the state’s chief minister.
One must remember that the BJP had won as many as 21 states by 2018, or in other words, the party now governs 35 per cent of the country’s landmass in comparison to over 71 per cent in 2017. This is despite the BJP fulfilling its key ideological promises in its 2019 Lok Sabha manifesto — abrogation of Article 370, Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the Ram Mandir.
The party’s shrinking footprint means that it is deprived of the benefit of the state government machinery to propagate its schemes.
The BJP leadership is aware that Mr Modi has failed to live up to his promise of “minimum government, maximum governance”. The party knows, but is unwilling to accept in the public domain, that the economy is in doldrums, unemployment is at an all-time high and farm distress is increasing. The BJP realises that the kind of economic slowdown India is going through will take some time to recover. It perhaps realises that it is quite unlikely that the economy will rebound before the next general election. The BJP has to win every state election between now and 2024 if it hopes to rule the country for another term.
With the development plank out of the equation, the BJP has returned to its time-tested method of polarisation.
Past experience has shown the BJP that polarising voters yields electoral dividends. It has also shown the party that the average voter is liable to react to polarising statements and overlook issues like development.
While shockingly venomous slogans like “goli maaro saalo ko…” would not have been surprising if it had been made by someone like Giriraj Singh or Pragya Thakur, the fact that it was made by an educated person like Anurag Thakur is a clear sign of the BJP’s desperation ahead of the Delhi election.
The slogan also proves that the Delhi election is important because it’s a straight fight between Hindutva vitriol and development. This automatically raises the stakes, and because the stakes are so high, the BJP leaders are going berserk. So what if the vitriol irreparably damages the mindset of the country’s youth, as shown by youths opening fire on protesters after branding them “anti-nationals”?
It only proves that the BJP’s attempts to shift the focus away from development are working. Also, the intense hate for a section of society means more and more citizens of India are BJP voters for life. Polarisation by vitriol has helped the BJP grow from two seats in the Lok Sabha to 303 at present. It is highly unlikely that the party will ever shy away from dividing people into “nationals” and “anti-nationals”.