Tiwari denies report of resignation; cadre demand organisational overhaulUpdated: Feb 13, 2020 00:05 IST
Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Manoj Tiwari Wednesday dismissed reports that he offered to step down after the party’s crushing defeat in the Delhi elections in which it won only eight seats.
There are voices growing within the party for an “organisational overhaul” in the national capital. The party could improve its 2015 Assembly election tally only by five seats, while losing one seat in the process.
“I have neither offered to resign nor have been asked to do so (by the party leadership),” Tiwari told reporters on Wednesday.
Several senior leaders blamed the loss to delay in starting the election campaign, weak organisational setup, the state units “inability” to counter the freebies doled out by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, and all senior leaders talking in different voices. Another big reason for loss, some said, was the decision to contest without a chief minister candidate.
The BJP had a high-pitch, hyper local election campaign micromanaged by Union home minister Amit Shah, who attended roadshows and public meetings in 60-plus assembly constituencies in a span of 15 days. Close to 200 MPs, sitting and former chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and Union ministers campaigned aggressively in what was considered a prestige battle for the party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two rallies and BJP chief JP Nadda campaigned in 70 constituencies.
“This (eight seats and 40% vote share) is the best you can get after a 15-day-long campaign,” a senior BJP leader remarked.
Another senior BJP leader requesting anonymity said, “The AAP started its campaign soon after its defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. By the time we started, there wasn’t enough time to tell people about the free electric scooter scheme for college girls, the ₹2 per kilogram wheat flour scheme and bicycle scheme for girls in Class 9-12 scheme promised in our manifesto.”
In what many leaders say should have been the “easiest election” as the party had won all seven parliamentary constituencies in Delhi in 2019 for the second time with huge margins, it failed to counter AAP’s “politics of freebies”. “We lost our strongholds due to the water and electricity subsidy and free bus ride (for women). We didn’t counter it properly. In the last six months, we should have exposed the AAP on these issues,” said a former MLA.
Another issue many state unit leaders said was “weak organisation”. “All our senior leaders campaigned. If the state unit is not in order what can the senior leadership do? There is a need for an overhaul and a strong state leadership in Delhi,” said a senior leader.
Tiwari said, “We did our best. Maybe there was a delay in releasing our sankalp patra (manifesto). We will analyse the reasons for our performance. But we have bettered our performance as we got 40% of the total votes polled. BJP has never got this in the past in state elections.”
It is not the first time the party has lost an election despite “favourable political scenario”. In 2008, due to infighting, senior leaders say, the party couldn’t take on Sheila Dikshit government, as it failed to project a strong leadership.
In 2013, while Rajya Sabha member Vijay Goel was the Delhi BJP chief, the party had announced Harsh Vardhan, now Union health minister as its chief ministerial candidate. The party was the single largest party, but lost the chance to form the government in Delhi by a whisker. The party suffered a humiliating defeat in 2015 despite coming to power at the Centre in 2014 due to “infighting” and “poor decision in ticket distribution”.
After the defeat in Delhi, many are questioning the decision to bank on Purvanchalis, a term used to refer to people from eastern UP and Bihar. The BJP had made Tiwari its state chief in 2016 hoping to garner the support of the community, considered to be AAP’s support base. For the first time, the BJP fielded 11 Purvanchali candidates. “We didn’t get the support of the community and have partially lost our core support base in Baniya and Punjabis too. We lost the entire rural belt,” said a senior leader.
But Tiwari disagrees. “We got the support of the community," he said. “Of the eight seats we won, six are from my constituency and the neighbouring constituency which has the highest percentage of Purvanchalis. Abhay Verma won from Laxmi Nagar.”
Despite the difference of opinion, all BJP leaders were united on the party’s decision to run a high-octane campaign on “nationalism” by raising the abrogation of Article 370, Ram temple, triple talaq and Citizenship (Amendment) Act. “The increase in vote share is due to the focus on nationalism. There is no compromise on the issues of national importance, including CAA,” said a senior leader.
Tanvir Aeijaz, is associate professor in the department of political science at Ramjas College, “The BJP has not understood the evolving character of Delhi with the influx of migrants in the last few years. People associate them with identity politics and AAP has presented alternate model and addressed their day to day issues. There was an AAP wave this time, too, which BJP leaders see it. Had BJP countered on livelihood issues, they would have got more seats this time.”