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Delhi Elections: The BJP And The Wages of Arrogance

17/02/2015 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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Members of India’s leading Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sits near an empty stage set up for addressing the media at a deserted headquarters of the country's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. . The Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, was Tuesday heading for an overwhelming victory in elections to install a state government in India's capital, a potentially huge blow for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

Every election is a bit like Rashomon, the epic Kurosawa movie, wherein emerge many perfectly honest, but conflicting, versions of the same event.

While the AAP success in Delhi hogs all the headlines and airwaves, the most intriguing story is that of the BJP, which managed to lose a king's ransom (29 out of the 32 seats it had won last time) and that too across all demographic divisions - age and income groups, urban conglomerates, rural populations, gender and religious divides etc. It won not a single segment of the Delhi electorate

What makes this rout fascinating is how it was achieved without losing the core BJP voter base, which stood solid at around 33%. Quite simply then, the BJP was unable to attract any new voters. And that too at a time when the political loyalties in Delhi were in flux with the Congress voter base in rapid disintegration.

Set against the background of the triumphant Modi electoral wave through the summer and autumn of 2014, the BJP must urgently ask itself: given the opportunity, why did two-thirds of Delhi's 13 million voters turn their backs on the Lotus?

Arrogance does not go down well with the Indian voter, and the BJP leadership has simply dripped with arrogance, bucketfuls of it. Indira Gandhi paid the price of arrogance through the Emergency period, so did Rajiv despite the biggest mandate of the Congress party, and perhaps even the Vajpayee government fell on the implied arrogance of the India Shining boast. No, sir, we don't accept arrogance from our elected masters, give us a Lal Bahadur Shastri anytime.

From the time the BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections in May last year, its arrogant display of power has gradually built a slow groundswell of resentment. Whether it was the manner in which governors - including octogenarian Kamla Beniwal - were sacked, interfering in the internal governance of educational institutions like Delhi University and IIT-Delhi, or unceremoniously booting out the top officials of the Foreign Office, Home Ministry or DRDO, it's a long list of questionable exercises of power. There may have been justifications for all these, but the style was unacceptable.

Also unpalatable to Indian sensitivities were the Rs 10-lakh suit and calling invited guests by their first names. Traditionally, we simply don't do it even in our families. Then, of course, there was the pettiness in refusing to invite two duly elected ex-CMs of Delhi to the Republic Day Parade while giving a front row seat to their own party's chief ministerial candidate, almost as if the event was a party rally (not to forget Kiran Bedi's jibe that Kejriwal should join the BJP if keen on attending the event).

The flame of arrogance continued to spread: listening to the BJP spokespersons on TV, no one can accuse Nalin Kohli, Sambit Patra or even Shaina NC of the mortal sin of humility or the slightest willingness to contribute to an informed debate. They must together have notched up a Tendulkar-like score in turning off undecided voters.

But they are not to blame: after all, their political masters set the tone. There are few better examples of cynical smugness than Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley, and even Venkaiah Naidu.

The mystery remains why the Prime Minister, master politician that he is, got involved in the Delhi elections at all. He probably understands the Indian voter better than anyone else in his party, so it is all the more surprising that he resorted to this ill-advised, abusive, personal style of campaigning with a cynical disregard of all the bhadralok norms of the great and ancient city of Delhi.

Goliath fell not to David, they say, but to the arrogant belief in his own invincibility.

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