Who knew that the BJP’s party offices would wear a deserted look on counting day in the capital, just eight months after Narendra Modi swept into power in the general elections? The ruling party and millions of its faithful will take a while to recover from the enormity of the defeat in the Delhi elections.
They will come to terms with the fact that for all their relish about the Congress getting only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, they themselves narrowly avoided a blank result in Delhi polls. For their own and the nation’s sake, the BJP should absorb the right lessons from this defeat.
A combination of factors worked against the BJP even though it marshalled the Prime Minister and 120 MPs into a campaign that left few stones unturned. For all its rhetoric about development and aspiration, the party failed to connect with the poor in ways that Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have managed to, through sustained contact with neighbourhoods across the city. That was in a way expressed in the absence of local leadership beyond a few high profile leaders like Harsh Vardhan. That is a significant failing for a party in a country that is still largely poor. The BJP will need to, at the very least, rethink its narrative which is currently freighted towards the interests of the middle and upper classes.
What should particularly shock the BJP is that it has lost support among the middle class which it had come to take for granted. The party’s development agenda has been consistently undercut by its own elements and its ideological affiliates who frequently indulge in misogynistic commentary, unleash unacceptable anti-minority rhetoric and violence while pursuing pointless campaigns against occasions like Valentine’s Day.
The Sangh parivar seems completely out of step with what India’s cities and youth want. They are not interested in renaming minority festivals, nor in declarations by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that India is a Hindu Rashtra that needs to have “one language, one God and one religion”. Not only do such statements fly against the reality and idea of India, they fundamentally violate notions of fairness and individual freedom that young people intuitively embrace.
The BJP must urgently seek to understand the India it seeks to govern, which formidable forces like the AAP seem to have a better handle on. It is time for Prime Minister Modi to speak out more explicitly against the regressive agenda that some of his party colleagues and allies espouse – and return to a singular focus on the development platform for which he was elected.