Everyone from Kiran Bedi to Modi himself are being identified as culprits.
It will take some time for the Bharatiya Janata Party to fully come to terms with exactly what went wrong in the Delhi elections. The sheer scale of the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory, nearly unprecedented in Indian history, means this wasn’t just a matter of the BJP having tried hard and come close. Something else is going on here, and the next few weeks will be spent trying to figure out what it was and how they can correct it.
In case they’re looking for culprits, though, there are plenty of candidates already being offered up. Of course, the expected villains are being blamed ‒ the media, “Lutyens’ Delhi,” overworked government servants, secular forces at large ‒ but the tremendous scale of the defeat has also prompted those in the Right to look inwards when considering who might be at fault.
1) Kiran Bedi
The easiest answer and also the one that was picked up immediately by some within the BJP was their chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi. The former anti-corruption activist had been inducted into the party just weeks before the election, and immediately seemed to become a liability. Loyalists who had spent years working in the Delhi BJP complained about an outsider being brought in for the top post, while Bedi’s own comments to the media and party workers didn’t exactly hold her in good stead. If nothing else, Bedi is set to be the immediate scapegoat.
2) Hindutva types
Another strain of thought is to blame the more socially conservative elements within the Right, who have pushed everything from Love Jihad to Gharwapsi instead of allowing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda to remain front and center.
In the minds of the more liberal supporters of the BJP, the prime minister’s decision to let the Hindutva gang dominate the agenda has taken the Modi government off the rails and given the opposition a foothold with which to claw their way back to relevance. In a rather odd piece with uncomfortable references, Swarajya magazine editor Sandipan Deb explains what he believes to be the problem:
Modi’s worst enemies are inside his party. The Opposition counts for nothing. But from Day 1, this government has been totally unnecessarily drawn into controversies by members of its own party or the extended parivar. Wackos completely unknown till now have been crawling out of the woodwork and making outrageous statements ‒ about imagined past glories, about historical rancour, about they-did-it-to-us and now we will do it to them.
3) Development types
That doesn’t mean there’s any consensus about this. In fact, on the other side of the divide, the exact opposite is being claimed. The Times of India reported members of right-wing organisations claiming that the Delhi verdict had been the price Modi was paying for diverting from core principles of Hindutva.
“BJP is a party of fake Hindus,” said the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha’s Ashok Sharma. “No wonder they put up such a miserable performance. Narendra Modi deflected from the party’s agenda and paid a price for it.”
4) Narendra Modi and Amit Shah (unintentionally)
Another theory is that Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have begun to get arrogant, letting their electoral successes over the last few years get to their heads. The Economic Times reported on party workers getting troubled by Shah’s aloofness, with the president apparently being unwilling to talk to local candidates.
Others lay the blame at Modi’s feet over the last couple of months, saying he carried out the campaign in the same way as he had done the Lok Sabha one, but with the added arrogance of things like the expensive pinstriped suit that the prime minister wore when US president Barack Obama visited.
R Jagannathan of FirstPost, who was effusive with his praise for Modi before last year’s election, suggested a lack of self-awareness from the PM. “There are two reasons for this. One stems from the zero difference between Modi 2014 and Modi 2015…. we had seen him, heard him, and were wowed by him before. We expected more. The question in the Delhi voter’s mind – apart from solutions to civic problems – was: what could Modi offer her over and above what he had offered to India over the last two years? What walk could he offer over the talk?”
5) Narendra Modi and Amit Shah (intentionally)
The most unlikely of theories comes from the set of people who would still like to see Modi and Shah as master electoral operators who have managed to achieve everything they want to. In this reading, even the loss in Delhi is part of a grander plan to push their overall narrative.
XPRESS editor Bobbi Naqvi decided to publish these conspiracy theories as actual punditry, suggesting that losing Delhi would put a spotlight on Kejriwal while allowing the Sangh Parivar to carry on their activities in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other places. Meanwhile, as Kejriwal starts to falter, his failures will show the Modi government in better light, this conspiracy theory goes.
“BJP’s top brass is aware that even if the party wins Delhi, the state will remain a headache ‒ partly due to intra-party bickerings and partly because of impatient voters who expect immediate results and good governance, something the BJP is unsure of delivering. BJP has controlled the city-state’s civic bodies for years but has failed miserably. Losing Delhi won’t be such a bad idea!”