Few would have expected the Aam Admi Party (AAP) to repeat its stellar performance of five years ago when it won 67 out of the 70 Delhi assembly seats. But the fact that it is touching the 60-seat mark and succeeded in retaining its well over 50 per cent vote share shows that there has been very little diminution of its political appeal.
However, it is also undeniable that the BJP put up a creditable fight, running the AAP close in a number of seats. There has also been an eight per cent jump in the BJP’s vote share from 32.8 per cent in 2015 although it has dropped sharply from the 56.9 per cent which the party received in last year’s parliamentary polls.
What the outcome underlines, therefore, is the differentiation which the voters are making between a state election and a national one. This propensity has also been evident in the three other assembly elections held recently, viz. in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, where the BJP either failed to form a government or could do so only with an ally.
If this trend continues, then the BJP can be expected to face a tough challenge in Bihar later this year if its opponents are able to form an alliance. A possibility of this nature is likely because it is clear that Narendra Modi’s national-level popularity fails to strike a chord with the electorate in the state elections. This failure occurs irrespective of whether there is an acceptable local leader like Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra or whether there isn’t any as in Delhi.
There is little doubt that the BJP took the electioneering in the national capital to a level never seen before with the incumbent non-BJP chief minister being called a terrorist and the political fight between the AAP and the BJP being compared with an India-Pakistan battle with the former being equated with Pakistan.
It cannot be said with certainty whether the BJP’s tactics would been so vicious if the party was not rattled by the Shaheen Bagh sit-in of hundreds of Muslim women which made Union home minister Amit Shah advise voters to press the buttons on the voting machines so hard that the current reaches Shaheen Bagh to impart an electric shock.
Or for a Union minister to urge his audience at a rally to shoot the traitors or for an M.P. to say that the men behind the Shaheen Bagh protesters will enter Hindu homes to rape and kill. As if to emphasize that these vitriolic utterances were endorsed by the party, the M.P. was fielded by the BJP to open the debate in parliament on the President’s address although he had been reprimanded by the Election Commission.
What is noteworthy, however, is that none of this communal toxicity helped the BJP. If anything, it showed that the ordinary people ignore such anti-Muslim poison if they are not offended by the manner in which it is recklessly spread by the BJP.
Instead, they kept their faith with the AAP for its sobriety and the record of governance. There is little doubt that the AAP would have fared even better if Arvind Kejriwal did not waste the first three years of his tenure expelling those in the AAP who, he felt, posed a threat to him and indulging in theatrics like sitting in a dharna in the Lt. Governor’s office.
It was only in the last two years that he sobered down and concentrated on governance. Most people will hope that he will continue to do so and not be distracted by the expectation of playing a national role as at the time of the Anna Hazare agitation when he nurtured the ambition of being the prime minister.
The AAP will also have to remember that it was helped by the Congress’s ignominious collapse which cannot but be a matter of shame for a party which ruled Delhi for a decade and a half till 2015 by a chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, who was well regarded even by her adversaries. In fact, she may have survived if she did not have to pay the price of the Manmohan Singh government’s policy paralysis in the period before the 2014 general election.
While the Congress will have to lick its wounds, it is a million dollar question how the BJP will respond to its latest setback. Since it has now fared poorly in four successive state elections, will the party come to terms with the fact that the supposedly invincible Modi-Amit Shah jugalbandi is not working?
But it has no alternative since the two “strong” men dominate the organization to the point of emasculating all others. Moreover, will the BJP tone down its communal rhetoric or convince itself that the party has to indulge in more of the same?