Column | BJP's vitriol failed to cut ice with Delhi voters

Column | BJP's vitriol failed to cut ice with Delhi voters
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah during a meeting, in New Delhi. File Photo: PTI
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Amit Shah appeared a bit abashed after the huge loss suffered by the BJP in the Delhi assembly elections. The Union Home Minister had deemed the election a prestige issue and went on all-out attack against those protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act  (CAA) and used strong words. Egged by Shah's aggression, major campaigners like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and even little-known campaigners like junior union minister Anurag Thakur went at the protesters' hammer and tongs, calling the election an India-Pakistan match, and even demanding the latter be fed bullets. Shah's statement that voters should press EVM buttons so hard that the current should reach protest venue Shaheen Bagh was widely criticised as a call for electrifying action against those who protested against the CAA. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sharp in his speeches as he questioned the credentials of the Congress and other opponents, leaving the development campaign for the Aam Aadmi Party, the eventual winner.

Though BJP believes in the intentional collapse of the Congress in the Delhi polls as the latter secured only one-sixth of the votes it got in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there is a realisation that the vitriol did not generate positive vibes outside the party's core voters. Shah's admission that the abuses did not help the party was immediately followed by the act of his successor and new party president J P Nadda, summoning Union minister Giriraj Singh and rebuking him for calling the Deoband Islamic seminary in Uttar Pradesh as a fountainhead of terrorism. Nadda ensured the meeting with the animal husbandry and fisheries minister was publicised to send a message.

Interestingly Singh, known to have the most acerbic tongues in BJP, had not at all campaigned in Delhi. But Singh is from Bihar, and that is where the next assembly elections are held.

Even though Nadda rebuked Singh, other motormouths in the party, especially the party's IT Cell members, have not stopped the attacks. But an internal assessment among party leaders who handled the Delhi elections made Nadda conclude that the party had better fared whenever it played the victim card when Narendra Modi or other leaders were abused by the opposition. Some party office-bearers pointed out that the PM had been able to tell the nation that he was abused as 'chaiwallah' (tea-seller), messenger of death or 'neech' (lower-class person) during different stages of his public contests in Gujarat and at the national level, and each time the voters had rejected the abuse. Thus they pointed out that repeated terming of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal as a terrorist by party leaders had not helped. They also concluded Adityanath had used intemperate language. 

Interestingly, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party has also told BJP that the NDA should fight the Bihar elections on the development done by the Nitish Kumar government in his state and not bring in nationalistic issues. But Giriraj Singh and others -- who are annoyed that their party, BJP, has to play second fiddle to a regional leader like Nitish for the last several elections -- want the party to be more assertive in Bihar and win the elections on its nationalist agenda rather than let the CM and JD(U) supremo to walk away with all credit. Though Shah, when he was party president, had declared that the Bihar elections would be fought under Nitish's leadership, state BJP leaders belonging to the upper castes are demanding that it is time the chief minister was one from their community. The state's last upper-caste CM was Jagannath Mishra of Congress who lost to the Janata Dal led by Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in 1990.

But BJP leaders from Narendra Modi onwards are unable to control verbal fusillades,  especially against Congress and its campaign face Rahul Gandhi. The PM's rhetoric becomes harsh when he confronts Rahul and the latest epithet hurled at the Congress leader is 'tubelight'. Earlier Rahul has been dubbed 'pappu' and 'shehzada' by BJP leaders, and Modi has taken digs at Congress leadership as being those out on bail in corruption cases. The Congress too has been harsh in its criticism of the PM using words like 'chaiwallah', 'neech', 'betrayer' and 'stunt master'. 

The Election Commission itself had taken action against some of the junior BJP leaders but the opposition parties complained it had not acted on the statements by top functionaries. During the general elections, there were sharp differences within the Commission as one Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa wanted notices to be issued to the PM and Shah. 

As there is an eight-month interval before the Bihar elections, it will be a test for all political parties on whether their leaders are capable of toning down abuses, especially when the urge comes to giving nasty retorts.

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