The defeat of the BJP will affect Modi in many ways -- his critics will once again find a voice, he may change his way of functioning and the rock-star treatment he receives abroad might be dampened a bit.
An impatient Delhi has rejected the Bharatiya Janata Party and sided overwhelmingly with the underdog, ensuring the ghar wapsi of its prodigal son, Arvind Kejriwal. This is a tectonic shift in Delhi’s politics and will also impact the nation’s overall political perception. The duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his consigliere Amit Shah, stands humbled. With just three seats, someone on social media jibed, the BJP is one short of the number of children its leaders urge every Hindu woman to have.
The immediate consequences of the victory of the Aam Aadmi party should not be underestimated.
A day after the Delhi voters cast their vote, a BJP apprehensive of defeat held a review meeting of its Delhi leaders to discuss the outcome and the possible fallout of the election. This is the first such meeting of the BJP leadership since the Modi-Shah duo assumed control.
The immediate consequence of the electoral rout will not be a revolt in the BJP. However, those who had been muzzled would now find their voice again. The internal criticism of the government and the party leadership will begin. One should not expect any open defiance of Modi, as the BJP is a disciplined party. But the pall of terror that hung over his critics would be lifted and his authority considerably weakened.
Modi may even soften his style of functioning, jettisoning his ‘ekla chalo’ (walk alone) policy for getting others on board on governance and party matters. This would buy him insurance, so that he would not be the only one blamed if things went wrong.
The Delhi election results would also impact the BJP-run states. Their chief ministers, reduced to cyphers despite their electoral victory-runs and popularity, will start enjoying a greater degree of autonomy. Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh can once again start functioning as real chief ministers without constantly looking towards Delhi.
In terms of its policy direction, the Modi government would now enter unchartered waters. Modi’s projection as prime minister was a corporate project and he has tried to live up to the expectations of his sponsors by ramming through ordinances to improve the business atmosphere. However, the Delhi results demonstrate the clear advantages of pro-poor politics. As a BJP sympathiser put it, “The Rs 10-lakh suit has cost us dear. It reinforced the arrogance of Modi. Perhaps people wanted to bring him down a notch or two.”
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That the BJP conceded the shortcomings of its governance policy was evident when, taking a leaf out of AAP’s book, it offered not only cheaper water and electricity but also promised to convert all slums into free pucca houses by 2022. The party would be hard-pressed to convince its corporate sponsors that subsidies for the poor and the marginalised can be a part of the sound economic management it promised. Yet Modi will have to increasingly put such issues centre stage in his economic programmes.
Internationally, Modi may still not think twice before chumming around with world leaders. However, the reversal of electoral fortunes in Delhi just nine months after assuming power might dampen the rock-star treatment that he received. Foreign leaders will no longer be sure about his longevity in power.
The Delhi results would have a salutary impact on the morale of the opposition. Besides the government facing more hurdles in pushing its legislative business in Parliament, there would be a greater incentive for the opposition to come together on issues of common interest. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav in election-going Bihar will get a shot in the arm. And the voter sentiment in Punjab will be affected, even though the election there is still two years away.
As for AAP, it would have to give more space to sober, policy-oriented intellectuals in the party rather than the hotheads who seek overnight change. Then alone a graduated movement towards pro-people policies and politics can take place. Having come of age after the Delhi victory, AAP would also have to take a call on alliance politics, wherever conducive and necessary. If it makes the right kind of compromises without diluting its politics of empowerment, it can pose a formidable challenge to the BJP in the 2019 general elections.