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Sole strategist for MCD polls, Santhosh’s stock takes a hit as BJP loses civic body after 15 yrs

BJP insiders say many were unhappy with ticket distribution & this was ignored despite conveying it to leadership. But another section asserts party faced huge anti-incumbency.

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New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) defeat in the Delhi civic polls came as a personal setback to B. L. Santhosh who spearheaded the party’s poll preparations and strategy in the absence of other top leadership who were busy with elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. 

As BJP’s national general secretary (organisation), Santhosh is usually involved in all elections but it was the first time that he was playing a lead role in the party’s campaign strategy in Delhi.

The BJP lost the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) after a gap of 15 years, with Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) bagging 134 of the total 250 wards in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) election,  The BJP won in 104 wards, the Congress nine and Independents three.

Sathosh, who had stormy relations with senior BJP leader B. S. Yediyurappa during his stint in Karnataka, replaced Ram Lal as national general secretary (organisation) in July 2019. He has grown close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. 

Unlike his predecessors, Santhosh as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) point person in the BJP maintains a very high profile, taking aggressive stands on issues on social media — something that’s caused unease in a section of the Sangh, too.  

Soon after the results started trickling in, Santhosh rushed to the BJP’s  Delhi office and held a closed-door meeting with the state leaders including Delhi incharge Baijayant Panda. The party’s focus will be on the election of the Mayor. 

Given that the AAP has a slender majority and that there are no anti-defection laws applicable to municipal councillors, the BJP still hopes to turn the table on Kejriwal’s party.  

According to a senior BJP leader, Santhosh had been reviewing the entire preparation and used to hold multiple meetings in the run up to the polls. “Santhosh ji used to be closely involved in Delhi affairs and most changes in the party’s strategy used to be approved by him. As the union home minister and even the party president were busy with the assembly elections, Santhosh ji gave a lot of time to Delhi and closely monitored the poll strategy,” a senior BJP leader said. 

Also Read: ‘Liquor scam, bribes’ — how BJP’s Santhosh plotted ‘anti-graft’ MCD poll campaign against AAP

‘Flaws in poll strategy’

Multiple Delhi BJP leaders whom ThePrint spoke to pointed out flaws in the strategy devised by Santhosh. A senior leader said the BJP MPs in one of the meetings with the central brass, including Santhosh, pointed out that the BJP was not in a good position. “Some were unhappy with the ticket distribution and despite the fact that they conveyed it to the leadership, it was ignored,” said the leader.  

Another party functionary said the entire campaign strategy focused on highlighting the failure of Kejriwal and his Cabinet colleagues, including jailed minister Satyendar Jain. 

This, the leaders said, helped the BJP win in the wards under Jain and some other pockets but did not have the kind of impact it was looking for. “The corruption plank and videos of Jain getting preferential treatment worked to a certain level, but towards the end we should have also concentrated on our own governance model much more effectively,” said a party functionary. 

 A BJP source further said it was Santhosh along with the central leadership who pointed out that the issue of corruption was sticking with the people and was creating a lot of buzz and asked the state unit to focus on this much more. “After this feedback, more revelations related to corruption and misgovernance were made public on a daily basis by the Delhi unit so that people could understand how the AAP government really functions,” another BJP leader said.

Santhosh used to conduct brainstorming sessions with senior leaders and the Delhi unit apart from the in-charges of various election committees to review the BJP’s campaigns and strategies for the MCD poll. 

Another reason being cited by the Delhi leaders for not touching the magical figure of 126 is ‘faulty ticket selection’. Not only this, they said, the party was also unable to counter the ‘freebies’ offered by the AAP. 

Some, however, came to Sathosh’s defence, saying the BJP despite being in power for 15 years and facing massive anti-incumbency, managed to cross the three digit figure. 

“In initial surveys, we were much far behind the AAP but the central leadership’s decision to depute big guns helped the party narrow the gap. The elections became a close-contest and getting 104 is not a small feat,” a leader said, adding that the vote share also improved from 2017 which shows that the BJP core vote bank remains intact.  

From around 36 per cent in the 2017 MCD polls, the BJP saw its vote share rise to 39 per cent this time. 

Many in the BJP attributed this to the popularity of PM Modi and the central schemes. “The allotment of the EWS flats, its publicity should have happened a few months back. The delay seems to have cost us a little. At the same time, it is indeed the high-decibel campaign that was planned towards the end which helped us maintain a respectable number of seats. We are not in power but we have managed to do well. All the exit polls predicting a sweep for the AAP have been proven wrong,” the second BJP leader explained.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Mass contact, star campaigners — BJP ups the ante as internal evaluation shows MCD vote shortfall


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