By Amulya Ganguli
Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to pip the Aam Admi Party (AAP) at the post in the Delhi assembly elections, doubts remain as to how much ahead it will be of its rival.
In the last election, too, the BJP won more seats than the AAP although it fell short of the half-way mark in the 70-member legislature. In the forthcoming contest, therefore, the BJP’s first wish will be to win at least 35 seats although its combative president, Amit Shah, is predicting success in two-thirds of the seats.
Considering, however, that his much-vaunted “Mission 44” came a cropper in Jammu and Kashmir, his latest boast is likely to be seen as a case of whistling in the dark. The reason is the belief that the AAP will not be a pushover.
It is this expectation of a party led by an “anarchist”, as Narendra Modi told an election rally, giving the BJP a run for its money which has induced the latter to roll out the big guns for the contest.
Apart from seven or eight cabinet ministers, a large number of MPs have been drafted by the party to campaign during the run-up to D-day, which is Feb 7. Besides, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s friend, philosopher and guide, has decided to depute its workers for field work.
To the uninitiated, all this effort might seem like the wielding of a sledge-hammer to swat a fly. After all, the BJP is led by unarguably the most popular prime minister the country has seen since the first three years of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure before the Bofors howitzer scandal started his downfall.
In contrast, the AAP, though it came second in the last election with 28 seats against the BJP’s 32, is still a novice in the political field with a muddled ideology and an organizational base comprising mostly enthusiastic amateurs. It has also experienced desertions from its ranks of high-profile members like Kiran Bedi, who is now the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, and the ebullient Shazia Ilmi.
Moreover, the AAP, and especially its voluble leader, Arvind Kejriwal, are yet to get over the opprobrium and ridicule it suffered for having “run away” after 49 days in office, which made Modi call him AK-49.
Notwithstanding these handicaps, the AAP’s seeming advantage is that it enjoys the backing of the urban poor and the minorities. If the former, comprising the lower middle class and those living in slums or jhuggi-jhopri clusters are impressed by Kejriwal’s anti-establishment rhetoric, which substantiates their own experience of police high-handedness and bureaucratic indifference, the minorities have been unnerved by the communal agenda of the Hindutva fundamentalists.
To these groups, the AAP remains the only hope in the absence of the Congress which is expected to finish as a poor third in the race. However, the reported observation of a BJP minister that he wished that the Congress wasn’t so weak showed how eagerly a nervous party was hoping for the Grand Old Party of yore to cut into the AAP’s votes.
What the BJP’s angst shows, however, is its realization that the Delhi poll is a great deal more important than the earlier state assembly elections. Unlike its failure to get a majority on its own in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, a similar situation in Delhi – or even a narrow majority – will show that the party cannot always bank on the so-called Modi magic.
It will confirm yet again that the BJP’s Lok Sabha success was the result solely of a positive popular response to Modi’s pitch for development and that, but for him, the party is a kati patang, or a drifting kite, as it was called by one of its supporters after the 2009 defeat.
Moreover, an unsatisfactory performance by the BJP will also show that it tends to stumble if it faces a stiff challenge, even from an untested opponent.
On the other side of the fence, even if the AAP comes a close second but is unable to form a government, its ability to survive for five years in the wilderness will be in doubt. As it is, the AAP’s emergence and the good showing it put up in the winter of 2013-14 were the result of the Congress’s precipitous decline because of inept governance at the centre and the charge of corruption that it faced.
But, to survive for a prolonged period in the absence of these two factors – ineptness and sleaze – will not be easy for an organization which thrives on hype verging on the outrageous, such as telling voters to accept bribes from the BJP and the Congress, but vote for the AAP.
However, no party will suffer more than the Congress if it fails even to cross the eight seats it won in 2013. That outcome was something of a surprise because even the BJP MP, Chandan Mitra, said that the Sheila Dixit government was not too bad so far as governments were concerned, but that it paid the price of the anger which the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh dispensation aroused.
Now, it is the Sonia-Rahul combination which will spell the Congress’s doom.
(31.01.2015 – Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)