Focus on Shaheen Bagh and polarised campaign paid mixed results to BJPUpdated: Feb 13, 2020 00:03 IST
New Delhi: At the centre of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaign in the Delhi elections were the protests against the amended citizenship law in the Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood, which it projected as “anti-national”.
The party turned its attention to Shaheen Bagh -- where a road blockade has cut off an arterial link between Delhi and Noida -- at a time when the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) narrative of improved education and health care, and affordable water and power supply, seemed to be resonating with the people of Delhi.
The BJP deployed its big guns -- from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah to state chief ministers from across India and members of Parliament -- in the Delhi campaign. A key talking point was the Shaheen Bagh protestors, mostly Muslims, in what was widely seen as an attempt to polarise voters along religious lines.
Poll data suggests, the polarisation strategy paid off only in some pockets of Delhi – in the trans-Yamuna region, where the BJP won three seats in East Delhi and three in North East Delhi, and in the rural belt in North West Delhi, where its vote share rose by around 9 percentage points compared to the figures in 2015 polls.
The AAP won 62 seats in the 70-member assembly although its average victory margin dropped from around 28,000 in 2015 to 21,000. The BJP won eight seats, compared to three in 2015, with its vote share increasing by around six percentage points – from 32.1% in 2015 to 38.5%.
Between January 23 and February 6, Amit Shah was the face of the grand road shows taken out by the BJP in five assembly segments -- Ghonda, Kasturba Nagar, Uttam Nagar, Vikaspuri and Janakpuri. Of these five seats, the BJP could win only one and gave a tough fight to the AAP candidate in another. The other three seats were swept by the AAP with a vote shares of between 54% and 55%.
The BJP’s Ajay Mahawar won the Ghonda seat by a margin of around 28,000 votes, and its candidate Ravinder Choudhry lost to the AAPs Madan Lal in a nail-biting contest for Kasturba Nagar, losing by 3,165 votes. In 2015, the AAP had won both these seats with margins of around 8,000 seats and 16,000 seats respectively.
In Rithala, where a public gathering addressed by junior finance minister Anurag Thakur on January 27 was marked by divisive “shoot the traitors” slogans, the BJP lost by a margin of around 14,000 votes. In 2015, the party performed worse in Rithala, where it lost by a margin of around 29,000 votes.
In neighbouring Rohini, where Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said on February 1 that leaders of the AAP were “feeding biryani” to the protesters in Shaheen Bagh, the BJP’s Vijender Gupta scored a significant victory by a margin of around 13,000 votes – more than double of his own victory margin of 5,367 votes in the 2015 elections.
“In the initial phases of the campaign, the polarising effect could be seen in the seats of the rural belt which come largely under South Delhi, West Delhi and North West Delhi. The predominant castes in these segments are Jats and Gujjars. But these segments also have large number of tenants who are migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. That vote base later helped in changing the political mood,” said a senior AAP leader involved in the party’s campaign, requesting anonymity.
Assemblies in the rural belt include Narela, Bawana, Mundka, Najafgarh, Matiala, Mehrauli, Chhatarpur, Tughlakabad and Bijwasan.
The BJP did not win any of these seats but offered a close fight in three – Najafgarh, Chhatarpur and Bijwasan – where the victory margins of the AAP candidates they lost to were less than 7,000 votes.
The BJP’s average vote share in these constituencies was 43% - which is 4.5 percentage points higher than the party’s average for the whole of Delhi. And it was much better than the party’s performance in this belt in 2015, when it recorded an average of 34% vote share in the nine seats.
“But as the elections drew closer, effects of polarisation could be seen in the trans-Yamuna region which largely comes under east and north-east districts. The party had to design campaign strategies to counter the effect and to some extent it succeeded,” said another senior AAP leader,also requesting anonymity.
Such assembly seats include Trilokpuri, Kondli, Patparganj, Laxmi Nagar, Vishwas Nagar, Krishna Nagar, Gandhi Nagar, Shahdara, Seemapuri, Rohtash Nagar, Seelampur, Ghonda, Babarpur, Gokalpur, Mustafabad and Karawal Nagar. In Seemapuri, the BJP left the seat for its ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).
“At one point, when the internal survey of the party suggested a win in at least 13 seats, it included all in the rural belt,” said a BJP leader who worked on the campaign. “There was anger among a large number of people against the ruling party for reasons that ranged from governance to poor reach-out of welfare schemes. But in the trans-Yamuna region, the change in political mood was visible much later. People there were more concerned about national issues such as the special status of Kashmir, Tripal Talaq and Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi. That worked in our favour to a large extent,” said another leader involved in the party's campaign.
The BJP won six out of these 16 seats– Laxmi Nagar, Vishwas Nagar, Gandhi Nagar, Rohtash Nagar, Ghonda and Karawal Nagar. And it put up a tough fight in three others -- Shahdara, Krishna Nagar and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia’s seat, Patparganj The victory margins of the winning AAP candidates in the three seats were less than 7,000.
The BJP won an average vote share of 44.7% in these seats – 2.7 percentage points higher than the Delhi average for the praty. The average vote share of the BJP was recorded at 36% in 2015 in these 15 segments.
“Patparganj has large number of voters from the Garhwal hills of Uttarakhand and both BJP’s and Congress’s candidates were Garhwalis. That equation was sorted out from the beginning. But the effects of polarisation came as a surprise. The speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Karkardooma and public gatherings by Union ministers like Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani had an impact on voters in the area,” said an AAP functionary associated with Sisodia’s campaign.
In 2015, two BJP candidates had won seats from this belt – Jagdesh Pradhan from Mustafabad (which the party lost this year) and O P Sharma from Vishwas Nagar (re-elected this year).
“The BJP’s campaign visibly lead to some degree of polarisation and has had a role in the party’s increased vote share. But if specific regions are to be analysed, the possible effects of polarisation should not be studies in isolation,” Rahul Verma, a fellow with the Centre for Policy Research, said.
For instance, he said, in the trans-Yamuna region, the BJP’s promise to confer ownership right to residents of unauthorised colonies could have played a role.