Sore loser

Print edition : January 24, 2014

BJP leader Harsh Vardhan when the confidence motion in the Delhi Assembly was debated on January 2. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The BJP is seething with anger at being denied the opportunity to assume power in Delhi. It now plans to rework its strategy, learning from the AAP brand of political mobilisation.

FROM seething hostility to quiet indignation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has displayed a range of emotions in its reaction to the phenomenon of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. The party was confident of winning the Delhi Assembly elections as the Congress government led by Sheila Dikshit was obviously going downhill. The reversal of its fortunes (it won only 30 seats in the 70-member Assembly) left the BJP stunned. Its leaders initially called the first-time contestant who finished close behind with 28 seats a “preposterous” outfit. They even refused to consider the AAP a political party. But when they realised that their outbursts against the AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal were only helping the nascent party, they chose to remain silent in front of the media.

Party president Rajnath Singh invited this correspondent for an interview, and even before the interview could begin, he said: “No questions on Aam Aadmi, please. I will say nothing now. They have just formed the government. We need to wait and see how they perform and what they do before I comment on them.” He, however, dismissed the perception that the BJP’s Narendra Modi bandwagon had been halted in its tracks by the AAP.

“Narendra Modi will become the Prime Minister in the 2014 elections. There is a tremendous wave in favour of him across the country. The AAP is a localised phenomenon in Delhi, which will not hold good for the rest of India,” he said. Rajnath Singh said AAP legislators were an “untried and untested” entity, whereas Modi had proved his worth as an able administrator for the past so many years. “We know people who voted for the AAP in Delhi will vote for Modi in 2014. There is no doubt about that. We don’t see the AAP as a threat at the national level. Talk to me exactly a month after this and then maybe I will be able to talk about the AAP,” he said.

While Rajnath Singh chose his words carefully, several other BJP leaders were not so dignified in their reactions. Former party president and Delhi in-charge Nitin Gadkari described AAP leaders as Maoist sympathisers and a “confused” lot. V.K. Malhotra, another prominent BJP face in Delhi, described the AAP winners as “animals washed ashore after a tsunami”. They have also been described as “betrayers and traitors”.

Harsh Vardhan, who was the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Delhi, said that by aligning with the Congress, the AAP had proved that it was hungry for power. “The AAP fought the elections on the anti-corruption plank and now it has taken support from a party that has been rejected by the people. This proves that it is hungry for power,” he said, adding that “this is a betrayal of the wishes of the people of Delhi”. Harsh Vardhan also criticised the AAP’s unique initiative of holding a referendum on the question of forming the government, saying that it was a joke as the opinion of a few hundred people was used to suppress the mandate given by lakhs of people. “Around 70 per cent of the people of Delhi had given their mandate and chosen their representatives and now you go out on the streets and ask some hundreds of people to give a mandate, that is an insult to the real dimension of democracy,” he said.

Attacking the AAP’s unconventional style of functioning, Malhotra said the fledgling outfit would not survive for long as it did not follow constitutional laws. “How can they ask people not to pay their electricity bills? This is not the way to protest. It seems that the AAP does not believe in constitutional laws or democracy. Such a party cannot govern a State. None of its elected leaders has any political experience. They are just like animals relocated by a tsunami,” he told the media. He launched a scathing personal attack on Kejriwal for going back on his pre-election promise and taking the support of the Congress to form the government. “No decent man would do that,” he said.

But after the initial outbursts, there appeared to be a rethink in BJP circles as the public display of anger was proving counterproductive. “After all, they have emerged as a significant force in Delhi and calling them names would anger people further. But we are still in a daze to understand this phenomenon called the AAP. There has to be some very, very clever guiding force behind them,” a senior BJP leader said. According to him, the AAP is an interesting study for the BJP in its quest for “Modi as PM”. “The way they reached out to the people and mobilised grass-roots workers without too much public display of money power is a political case study, and we would do well to understand this,” he said.

Other BJP leaders confessed to this correspondent that the AAP had beaten the BJP in its own game of booth-level management. “This was a practice Rajnath Singh had started in his previous tenure as party president. The practice was abandoned after his term ended. We failed to mobilise our booth-level workers. This has resulted in a disconnect between the party leadership and the grass-roots workers. There is a communication gap, and this has created a disconnect between the party and the people. We have to take care of this gap if we want to convert the Modi dream into a reality,” a senior BJP leader said.

This leader also admitted that Delhi, which has always witnessed bipolar politics, was a fit case for the BJP to regain power. But the way the AAP has spoiled its chances is a cause for worry because the BJP was hoping to replace the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre by emerging as the “most obvious alternative to the Congress”. It cannot hope to remain smug now as the AAP has indicated that it plans to approach the Lok Sabha elections in a big way.

“There is a difference between promising the moon and delivering it. They have just started. Let them first deliver on their promises. This seems almost impossible, and then people will start turning against them. We should just wait for them to fail,” said another BJP leader.

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