For a party that till last year was blamed for the mess in the three municipalities, the BJP bucked 10 years of anti-incumbency in the civic polls held on April 23. Remarkably, the party secured a vote share of 36% — more than 3.7% than what it bagged in the 2015 assembly polls.
In contrast, the vote share of the Aam Aadmi Party that swept 67 out of 70 assembly seats in 2015 was reduced by half to 27% in just two years. This unlikely scenario of the MCD elections 2017 can be best summed up as a game of shifting goalposts and self-goals.
In the words of BJP state president Manoj Tiwari, the party reinvented itself in Delhi using none other than Prime Minister Modi as the benchmark. As far as political strategies go, fighting a civic poll solely in the name of a prime minister was probably a first.
“Pre-2014 BJP was different from the one we have now. We have raised the bar,” Tiwari told Hindustan Times in a pre-poll interview. Admitting that governance standards in local bodies were wanting before Modi took over as the PM, he claimed that having “Modi as BJP’s policy” would change that.
To underline a new order, the BJP also replaced all sitting councillors in Delhi.The appointment of Bhojpuri singer-actor Manoj Tiwari as the state president was the third masterstroke at reinvention. A new face in Delhi, he was different from the RSS-schooled old city leadership that increasingly looked lacklustre over the years.
Tiwari, in fact, entered politics via the Samajwadi Party in 2009 when he unsuccessfully contested his first election from Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat against none other than Yogi Adityanath. In 2011, he was part of Anna Hazare-led India against Corruption movement. Yet, the BJP had no qualms picking Tiwari to social engineer its prospects in Delhi and to replicate the heady success in Uttar Pradesh.
Known to be a party of Hindu Punjabis and Baniyas since the days of the Jana Sangh, BJP had to expand its appeal base. The demography of city had, anyway, changed since the early 1990s. Many of the BJP’s traditional voters had already moved out of the post-Partition resettlement colonies and the Walled City to the NCR towns. In many neighbourhoods, the new professional migrants have found their place among the families resettled after the Partition.
The Jats, Yadavs and Gujjars — the original residents of the rural pockets — are now outnumbered by Poorvanchali migrants from UP and Bihar in many of the villages of Delhi. In the unauthorised colonies, where a third of Delhi’s population lives, Poorvanchalis are the dominant group. The induction of Tiwari, a Bhojpuri celebrity who had already won for BJP the Northeast Delhi Lok Sabha seat, a Poorvanchali hub, in 2014, to wean these voters away from the AAP and the Congress seemed to have paid off well.
In the Purvanchali-dominated segments such Burari, Kirari, Sangam Vihar and Karawal Nagar, for example, the BJP won 16 out 22 municipal wards. Burari is where Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar launched their municipal elections campaigns.
If anything, the BJP’s Delhi strategy got a big leg-up from the AAP. The party’s never-ending blame game and perennial bickering with the Centre and Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor were already tiring people. Then, it launched a negative campaign harping on the BJP’s mismanagement of the MCDs. Worse, the AAP forgot that it had a political base to consolidate.
The party that till two years ago took pride in the way it connected with the aam aadmi, somehow managed to lose its enthusiastic volunteer base. Their topi-clad active supporters were conspicuously absent from Delhi’s polling booths last Sunday.
Political fortunes follow momentum. The BJP used to its advantage the landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh to impress the Delhi voters. For a debutant in Punjab, the AAP fared well to emerge as the principal opposition party. But because of the victory-or-nothing hype created by the party, even its impressive show became a setback in the public perception. Irrespective of the merit of the AAP’s case against the EVMs, the desperate protestations came across as excuses.
Such optics fuel negativity. Those who would not vote for the BJP ended up voting for the Congress in Delhi.
That is how the grand old party’s vote share jumped from 9% in the 2015 assembly poll to 22% this election despite no perceivable change in its appeal.