Once the effects of the slowdown in the economy start to be felt and the feel-good effect of scrapping Article 370 recedes, the BJP fears it would be hard for the party to capture Delhi. Aditi Phadnis reports.
The timing is crucial,” said a functionary of the Bharatiya Janata Party. “We need to have the election now”.
He was talking about polls to the Delhi assembly, due in January-February, 2020. Last time in 2015, the election was completed on February 5 and the results were out by February 8. Arvind Kejriwal became the triumphant chief minister of Delhi with both the Congress and the BJP wringing their hands.
This time, the BJP is clear: Kejriwal is no write-off and unless the party advances the elections by hook or by crook, the Aam Aadmi Party government has a good chance of returning to power.
Out of a total strength of 70, the assembly has currently 64 MLAs (this excludes Alka Lamba who has resigned from the membership of AAP and was disqualified from the assembly, but includes AAP MLAS who have legal proceedings against them). Of this, the BJP has four MLAs and the Congress has none. The rest are AAP.
In 2015, the AAP had won 67 seats. But many of its MLAs have been disqualified. Despite that, there is no way the government can be dismissed and elections advanced -- unless AAP so desires and recommends as much to the Lieutenant Governor.
Let us assume for a moment that there is a flaw in this reasoning and the elections are indeed advanced as per the wishes of the BJP. What happens then?
The BJP’s assessment is that with the passing of Sheila Dikshit, the damage is not the Congress’s alone -- it is also the BJP’s. In the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress got 23 per cent vote share. In five out of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, the Congress was at the second position. The BJP got a humongous 56.5 per cent of the vote share and won all seven Lok Sabha seats.
This is why the BJP wants elections sooner rather than later. The party’s calculation is that the political advantage of de-operationalising Article 370 and central rule in Jammu and Kashmir will accrue to it only if elections are held in weeks rather than months. “Once the effects of the slowdown in the economy begin to be felt and the feel-good of Article 370 recede, it will be hard for us,” the BJP leader said.
Sheila Dikshit’s continuance (to the BJP’s way of thinking) would have further reduced the Congress’s vote percentage by 3 or 4 per cent -- but not more. At a vote share of around 18 per cent, the Congress would have nibbled away at AAP’s vote and it would have been advantage BJP.
But if the Congress hits rock bottom and the AAP goes from strength to strength… “then we have a problem”, he said.
Just as there are structural and cyclical reasons for the slowdown in the economy, there are structural and cyclical reasons for the BJP’s erosion in Delhi. In the past, the BJP had always relied on Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Madan Lal Khurana and Kidar Nath Sahani, to net the powerful Punjabi vote. This then changed to the Baniya (Vaishya) community which also contributed to the support base of the BJP in Delhi. Vijay Goel was the best known among them; Harsh Vardhan, current union health minister, was another.
In 2013, Harsh Vardhan would have been the CM when the BJP managed to get 32 seats, four short of a clear majority. He was the main face in February, 1996, when Khurana resigned from the post of chief minister in solidarity with L K Advani, whose name figured in the Jain hawala diaries. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh promoted him, but he was seen as indecisive and too eager to please.
Now, Harsh Vardhan is a cabinet minister and might not want to give up that position. Vijay Goel does not enjoy everyone’s trust. The wild card is Manoj Tiwari, who is the face of the rapidly growing Poorvanchali (Bihar and UP) population in the capital. Tiwari is an MP and the BJP state president. If no party elections are held in Delhi and he continues as president, contesting the assembly elections, this is a signal that he would be the party’s choice for chief minister.
But all this is contingent on the Congress getting at least 15 to 18 per cent of the vote share. In that situation, the BJP would be unstoppable. But if the Congress’s vote share goes down precipitously -- to say, 8 per cent -- and the BJP and the AAP are locked in a straight fight then there’s no telling what might happen.
And that is what the BJP is most afraid of.