Modi magic may face its severest test in Delhi


January 17, 2015

NEW DELHI, INDIA: The Delhi elections next month will show whether Narendra Modi continues to find it difficult to score sweeping victories in states where he faces a modicum of political resistance.

January 17, 2015

NEW DELHI, INDIA: The Delhi elections next month will show whether Narendra Modi continues to find it difficult to score sweeping victories in states where he faces a modicum of political resistance.

As was seen in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was unable to secure a majority on its own in the state legislatures because the local parties – the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand – could not be brushed aside by the purported Modi wave.

This inability was seen in the general election as well when the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal could not be dislodged from their strongholds.

The BJP's success in Haryana was due to the fact that its two major opponents – the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) – had gone into serious decline with the topmost INLD leaders being in jail. Jammu and Kashmir is in a different category because of its distinctive demographic composition.

Since conventional wisdom suggests that even if the BJP gets a majority in Delhi, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) will not be a pushover, the contest will be yet another major test of the efficacy of the Modi magic. If the AAP runs the BJP close, the latter will have only itself to blame. Had it been a little more energetic in addressing the problems of the national capital via Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung, at a time when more than 50 percent of the development funds have remained unspent, the BJP's prospects would have been brighter.

But it is not so much the political and official lethargy in heeding the city's infrastructural needs which may hurt the BJP as its failure to rein in the saffron loudmouths, although Prime Minister Modi is unhappy about their antics, according to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

However, the result of this failure is the possible consolidation of a sizable percentage of minority votes behind the AAP, now that the Congress is out of reckoning. Since Muslims constitute 11.7 percent of Delhi's population, their support for the AAP is a gift to the BJP's main opponent by Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj and others whose blinkered views make them oblivious of the fact that fundamentalism has few takers.

The situation may be partly redressed by the entry into the BJP by one of the AAP's most visible faces at one time, Shazia Ilmi, who was earlier with Anna Hazare. But her critics are likely to say that since the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) claimed to have been associated with Anna's anti-corruption movement, Shazia has only come full circle.

The entry into the BJP of another of Anna's former associates, Kiran Bedi, has created considerable stir because of the belief that the energetic former police officer may be the party's chief ministerial candidate. She is however likely to face in-house opposition from other chief ministerial aspirants like Vijay Goel and Jagdish Mukhi who have long been associated with the party and are not a fair weather friend like Bedi. Moreover, Bedi's earlier critical comments about Modi, especially about the 2002 Gujarat riots, may come to haunt her.

It is entirely possible that if the BJP had been more proactive in the field of development at both the state and national levels, the AAP would have been unable to make much headway. As it is, the party has lost much of its earlier middle class support, as its spokesmen admit. A possible reason is that its chief minister of 49 days in the winter of 2013-14, Arvind Kejriwal, still gives the impression that his penchant for showmanship will come in the way of governance.

He may no longer sit on a dharna or declare his anarchist preferences, but it is unlikely that he will eschew his instinctive confrontational style in favour of a mature approach to administration and in the matter of dealing with other parties.

Even otherwise, the AAP remains a hodge-podge of ideologies with the "left of left" tendencies, as mentioned by its ideologue Yogendra Yadav, alternating with Kejriwal's assertion of his "bania" credentials. This medley stands in contrast to Modi's focus on economic growth, which is the mainstay of his appeal.

It is this approach of the prime minister which has persuaded the third party in the fray, the Congress, to decide to look beyond secularism and the welfare of the poor to reach out to the aspirational generation. However, as for its chances in the Delhi election, the decline in its vote share from 25 percent in the assembly elections of 2013 to 14 percent in the parliamentary polls of 2014 shows that not only the people have retained their dislike for the Congress, but their aversion may have intensified.

Although the AAP's vote share rose from 29.5 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2014, the BJP's showing was more impressive since it won all the seven parliamentary constituencies in Delhi with 46.1 percent of the votes, a substantial jump from 2013's 33.7 percent. Will the BJP be able to live up to this achievement?

Courtesy: IANS