Modi's party stung in Delhi state election

Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party hold flags as they attend a rally, addressed by Home Minister Amit Shah, in support of a new citizenship law, in Lucknow, India, Jan 21, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)

India's ruling party suffered its third poll disaster since May although its national spokesperson said they fought in Delhi with all force and did its best.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, headed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bagged only eight seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly to finish at distant second behind 62 seats won by the liberal Aam Aadmi Party, or AAP, led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

What was further significant was that the AAP managed to get a lion's share of 53.57 percent votes, securing Delhi power for the third consecutive time. The Congress party which once ruled Delhi for 15 years got nearly 4 percent of the votes. The BJP failed to perform even though analysts said the Congress' vote share shifted to the BJP.

The Delhi elections had turned politically significant since this was the first major election being held after the contentious new citizenship law, and in a sense, was being widely described as a "referendum" of sorts.

The BJP leadership engaged all top leaders in the poll campaign. Modi and his colleague Amit Shah, former BJP chief, led the party campaign which saw no less than 5,000 big and small rallies in Delhi in the last one month.

Also engaged were all its federal ministers, at least six chief ministers of BJP-governed states, several former chief ministers, and nearly 300 party parliamentarians for 70 assembly seats. This amply indicated how the Delhi elections had become a matter of prestige for the BJP.

The BJP carefully crafted its entire poll campaign around the Citizenship Amendment Act and the issues of nationalism in a bid to polarize the voters along the communal lines, experts said.

The BJP had a lot of expectations for the Delhi elections. The party think tank felt the citizenship law promising to grant citizenship to six religious communities, including Hindus, coupled with other issues such as abrogation of Article 370 granting special status to India-controlled Kashmir and a promise to construct a grand temple for Hindus at Ayodhya would lead to huge polarization of Hindu votes and hugely benefit the party. But this calculation went entirely wrong.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, passed by the Parliament in December aims to fast-track citizenship for "persecuted" Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who arrived in India before Dec 31, 2014, from three neighboring Muslim countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. However, the Muslim community was "excluded" from this list, triggering violent protests across the country.

The BJP which was very much against such protests in the national capital and across India also sought to project the protesters as "anti-national".

"This election was an 'acid test' for the BJP since it had systematically raised the divisive agenda to divide voters along communal lines but was outright rejected by the masses," political analyst DM Diwakar said.

"The poll outcome shows the masses want peace, development and communal harmony," he added, suggesting that the BJP to rework its poll strategy.

This is the third time in quick succession that the BJP has lost the state elections in four months.

Yet, the BJP still remains adamant on its stand. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said that winning an election was one issue, but so far as the citizenship law was concerned, it was part of his party's manifesto. "We will not drag our feet behind even by an inch over this issue," Patra said.