Defeat is the great leveler but unlike death, it is a great teacher. There is no greater myth-buster than the ballot box, which urges course correction and intense introspection in all outlier elections.
Just as victory inflates ego, defeat pulverises personal glorification. BJP’s humiliating drubbing in Delhi cannot be considered just another loss, but the erosion of its hitherto unchallenged acceptability as the party with a difference.
Even as its self-consoling leadership gloats over its enhanced vote share vis-a-vis its ballot basket in 2015, the saffron establishment is ignoring at its peril the fact that it has suffered a massive loss of around 15 per cent votes since May when it won all of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats.
Dismembered by the K-Bomb, it couldn’t even make it past double digits. For the second consecutive time, five year old AAP flattened the gargantuan 40 year old BJP. Arvind Kejriwal, a former Revenue Service officer and IIT graduate, has emerged as a powerful challenger to the Modi-Shah combo. Though Modi Moxie 2014 stays unchanged, Kejriwal 2020 has gone beyond the Angry Activist of 2015. Once an acerbic street fighter, Kejriwal has now become Delhi’s Chankaya by stealing Modi’s slogan of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. Once a pseudo secularist, he has become the new Nationalist Liberal Icon who upholds Hanuman Bhakti as a badge of honour and conviction even as he replaces the Congress as the undisputed messiah of the Muslims.
The states have been sending May Day signals to BJP to look re-examine its version of Hindutva. After a communally corrosive election, Amit Shah even suggested that hate slogans led to the Delhi debacle which followed its loss of power in Maharashtra; its government in Haryana is at the mercy of a local outfit. These reverses have come seven months after Narendra Modi’s triumphant return to power with a record 300 seats.
It was a win for Mighty Modi but not for his party. The BJP had by then lost Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to the Congress, which was in ICU. Successive debacles in over half-a-dozen states in the past two years indicate that Modi alone cannot repeatedly grab every state for his party. From 2014 to 2017, it had won state after state in Modi’s name, the number going up from barely five states to eighteen. In none of these states did voters ask for the CM’s name. They blindly voted for Face Modi, inspired by his rhetoric. They saw in the prime minister, a chief minister as well. His towering hoardings dominated the national skyline like totems of mass mojo, which upended political fortunes both nationally and state-wise.
With Modi and his most trusted then-BJP chief Amit Shah taking charge of election campaigns in every state, the local leadership became either marginalised or lost credibility. Party cadres were convinced that the BJP can win just riding on the Modi’s mass magic and Shah’s organisational ops. Hence, the entire election strategy revolved exclusively around them. The two men addressed more rallies than all local and national leaders put together. State satraps such as Shivraj Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh were dwarfed in the electioneering effort. Even the affable Devendra Fadnavis and a simpleton like Haryana CM Khattar were downsized.
In Delhi, the BJP lacked a leader who posed even a minor threat to Kejriwal. Its state chief was at best seen as a regional community neta. Though the BJP boasts of possessing leaders of every caste and community, none of them enjoy Delhi’s confidence as vote magnets. Election management was handed over to Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Hardeep Singh Puri whose connectivity with Delhi’s politics is at best superfluous. While an affable Javadekar has little exposure to Delhi politics, Puri spent over three decades out of the city as a diplomat.
In fact, his association with the Khan Market Gang or the Lutyen’s Mafia is more pronounced than any other old face. English speaking leaders with ideologically neutral friends from other states were drafted into the campaign. The annoyed old and loyal cadres distanced themselves from campaigning. If that wasn’t enough, Shah was persuaded by rootless new spin masters to plunge into a new vector. They persuaded the prime minister and the home minister to believe that the party would get an absolute majority in Delhi’s assembly. BJP’s plummeting connectivity with its own cadres and voters became evident when it was compelled to resort to nukkad meetings and house-to-house canvassing.
The BJP now resembles the Congress, burdened by a top-heavy leadership and lacking second level personalities with the regional charisma to swing voters. For the first time, it looks as if it suffers an ideological talent deficit. During the past five years, many state veterans have vanished but haven’t been replaced by equally strong leaders. Both Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani could retain their undisputed national status while creating ocean of Gen Next powerhouses who could not only sway states but also played pan-Indian roles.
Modi, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Chouhan, Raje, Pramod Mahajan, Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharati, BS Yediyurappa, Raman Singh and Nitin Gadkari dominated the BJP’s regional and national discourse. While the Congress has failed to find an alternative to the Gandhis, the BJP had dozens of qualified persons to manage the top posts both in the government and the party. In 2014, Modi by his sheer hard work and performance raced past his competitors and mentors to bring India under Hindutva control.
As the countdown for the next round of state polls begin, both Modi and BJP must revisit its heavy dependence on a single individual at the cost of an ideology-led organisation. The Opposition lacks national level challengers. But it has Kejriwal, Mamata, Hooda, Kamal Nath, Bhupesh Baghel, Pinarayi Vijayan et al to block the saffron juggernaut. Mandate-2014 gave India and the BJP an unputdownable national icon in Modi. Somewhere on the way it lost its gods of small things and big ideas. On the other hand, anti-BJP forces adopted soft Hindutva with temple runs and prayer chants. Congress-run states are today more concerned about cow safety than BJP. The need of the hour for the saffron party is more local Modis to consolidate and sustain current Modi Rajya, which is under serious threat at the moment.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla