Friday, January 27, 2023
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To use or not use Modi’s face against Kejriwal in Delhi polls. BJP can’t decide

Delhi is no Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra or Haryana, where the BJP has powerful regional leaders.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party is sitting on an awkward dilemma ahead of next year’s assembly polls in Delhi. And that is delaying its strategy. This, even as its main competitor the Aam Aadmi Party and its chief Arvind Kejriwal have actively and visibly started to announce a slew of freebies and launch ubiquitous advertising campaigns.

To take on brand Arvind Kejriwal, the BJP knows it needs a heavyweight — something it lacks in Delhi. But if it were to fight the polls entirely on Narendra Modi’s image, as it has done in many crucial state elections, it exposes the invincible Prime Minister to the vulnerability of losing in a direct Modi-Kejriwal contest.

Given the current politically unstable state of the Congress — which ruled the national capital for three straight terms before the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — the BJP knows it is only Kejriwal who poses the big challenge. But the party — known for its well-oiled election machinery and before-time preparedness — seems to be in two minds about what approach to take in Delhi in 2020.

Also read: Delhi govt ties up with Harvard, World Bank to study impact of free bus rides for women

BJP’s conundrum

In the 2015 Delhi assembly polls, the BJP took an atypical gamble by fielding former Indian Police Service officer Kiran Bedi as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.

The decision was a colossal disaster – and led to an unequivocal sweep for the AAP and a rout for other parties.

Many in the party later realised that Modi’s popularity could have helped salvage the lost opportunity to some extent, especially considering how the BJP has since performed in states where it fought entirely in Modi’s name — Uttar Pradesh and Tripura being the most notable ones.

In 2017, the BJP did well in Delhi’s municipal corporation elections when Modi’s face was plastered over all its campaigns.

Moreover, Modi is far stronger and more loved now than he was five years ago when Delhi elections were held. And in these last five years, Kejriwal’s sheen has somewhat waned.

Also read: How Kejriwal’s AAP moved from ‘politics of change’ to counting on religion to win voters

Kejriwal’s power

Using Modi in Delhi is easier than it sounds. Kejriwal has belligerently and consistently challenged the Prime Minister, an attempt to punch above his weight of just being a chief minister and still project himself as an opposition leader who can match up to Modi.

Remember what can only be described as an amusing outburst calling PM Modi a “coward and psychopath” on Twitter?


Or remember his several run-ins with the Modi government over division of powers between Delhi and the Centre? A virulent tendency that he seems to have now temporarily put on hold ever since the BJP’s stunning performance in this year’s Lok Sabha elections.

Moreover, Kejriwal is no Rahul Gandhi. He will put up more than just a fight in the elections, on the basis of flaunting his five-year record, announcing freebies, engaging in refreshing brand of street politics and hold over crucial constituencies. The BJP knows the Delhi elections might not be a walkover for Modi and even the possibility of losing in a straight fight with Kejriwal can be a huge embarrassment to him, causing a dent in his Teflon-coated image and giving the Delhi chief minister a serious reason to gloat and shine.

Delhi isn’t going to be like Uttar Pradesh, where it was Modi versus a gathbandhan that he sought to portray as one that came together only to bring him down. It also won’t be like Tripura, where Modi was trying to dismantle a decades-old regime in a state where the BJP has no base. In fact, it won’t even be like West Bengal in 2021 where the ‘Mamata Banerjee versus Narendra Modi’ fight still gives the latter more room to justify not winning, given it is a state where the BJP has never ever held ground.

Merely making a good attempt against Kejriwal won’t be enough. He isn’t any naamdar (entitled dynast). He also isn’t perceived to be corrupt. Both Modi and Kejriwal have risen on their own and built their politics as well as popularity through their unique approach. So, losing to Kejriwal would mean Modi has been decisively defeated by someone who is absolutely on the same level, but has just managed to play the game better.

Also read: Ahead of Delhi polls, CM Kejriwal announces odd-even traffic regulations from November 4-15

Lack of options

Besides other bottlenecks, the BJP also has fewer faces (if any) in Delhi.

Union Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is a Member of Parliament from the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency, had failed to deliver a decisive win as the BJP’s chief ministerial face in the 2013 polls. He is affable, but hardly the mass leader the BJP needs to counter Kejriwal.

Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari is all colourful and newsy, with a strong Poorvanchali vote base, but little else. It’s other Delhi MPs — like Meenakshi Lekhi who may have done well for herself by defeating Congress bigwig Ajay Maken, but has little else going for her.

Former Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay is also a lightweight in the current context.

Delhi is no Rajasthan, or Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra or Haryana, where the BJP has powerful regional leaders it can count on. In the national capital, Modi seems to be the BJP’s best bet. And yet paradoxically, it is Modi who could end up exposing its biggest weakness if Kejriwal manages to trounce the unconquerable Prime Minister.

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    SLOWLY but SURELY the RESULTS HAVE TO COME OUT. Evn if they lose, AAP CANNOT MATCH THE BJP’s Money power. ND THEY CAN always cite that as the reason. But Iwish AK and his team to win; to show that the BJP juggernaut is Not Invincible.

  2. By the time elections for Delhi assembly are announced, PM would have lost his charisma to considerable extent due to his government’s anti-poor and anti-common man policies combined with all round failure on the fronts of economy, inflation, societal integrity and many others fronts. Besides, AK has so many works to show and to face Delhiites with that would absorb the anit-incumbency factor. With or without Modi being used as a brand, AAP would win the next elections ultimately.

  3. As a matter of fact BJP should not use Modi’s name at least in Delhi. His charisma seems like going downward. Today an individual or a coomon man is asking as to what has he benefitted out of Modi’s governance. Shaking hands with Trump or standing ovation at some places are okay, the country can proud. But till the economy is not booming, there is no all-round development, the common man is not benefitted. The whole country knows that economy is not doing well, unfortunately, the PM or his men are not ready to accept. They are riding high and arrogance has taken over. Some type of displeasure has started brewing with the general public, and if the bjp government don’t change course, it will be a thumps down for them in the next election. Kashmir, fighting terrorism, global leadership are all okay from different perspective but, if they don’t set right the economy soon, people will start treating them as bluffors of 5 trillion dream economy

  4. Kejriwal & Mori appears to be on same page in terms of policies and implementation, but Opposite end of political spectrum. Though Kejriwal has lost some sheen with idealists, but Modi has also made weary the small business communities and moderates with some of his policy & absence of control over rogue elements in BJP.

  5. Delhi was a Jan Sangh strong hold for long, because much of its population consisted of Punjabi refugees from Pakistan. These people were worshippers of Goddesses Durga and Mata Vaishno Devi, and Jan Sangh leaders were active in organizing JUG-RAATAs, which were all night gatherings of singing bhajans which built up quite a religious frenzy as the night wore on. Then, during the evenings, RSS organized SHAKHAs in every locality for schoolboys and youth, which included games, physical training, and singing melodious songs of patriotism.

    In this manner the Jan Sangh established a strong cultural and religious grip over the population which was soothing, not overtly aggressive, and therefore lasting.

    Over the years the demography of Delhi has changed a great deal. Now the city has grown in size, and the newer inhabitants are from other states like UP and Bihar. I think they outnumber the post-partition natives, the Punjabis. And they are the strength of Kejriwal ‘s AAP. The later awatar of Jan Sangh, the BJP is no match to AAP. The situation has become more difficult for Narendra Modi’s party because of some solid, sincere work done by AAP among the masses. To further add to the woes of the BJP, Mr Modi has been revealing himself as a man of mere hollow promises. Employment worries, and shutting down of small industries must have made even the middle class Punjabi business fraternity chary of Mr Modi. It is very difficult to imagine how the BJP will even be able to give AAP a decent fight – – without the aid of shady EVMs.

  6. Interesting dilemma!!! My feeling is that given Kejriwal’s fighting spirit, there is a risk of Modi’s larger than life image getting punctured, and therefore, there is a 50:50 chance that BJP will let Modi duck this bouncer.

    • Perhaps, AK is just waiting for that to happen, that is, for Modi to duck the bouncer. AK would then have an opportunity to shout from the roof-top- and rightly so- that ” Modi ji to ladai se pehle hi maidan chhodkar bhag gaye”.

  7. This goes to the heart of an issue on which there have been a few columns recently in the Print. Does thee party need strong regional leaders, or have they now become redundant.

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