New Delhi: Nine months after Narendra Modi inspired the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a majority in the 16th general election and 14 years after he joined electoral politics, the BJP leader suffered his first defeat on Tuesday.

It would have particularly stung the party that it ended up with only three out of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly. Not only did it hand a brute majority to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a political upstart, it also, humiliatingly, did not make the cut to automatically inherit the mantle of the leader of the opposition.

The setback is expected to force the present leadership of the BJP, revolving around Modi and party president Amit Shah, to pause and reflect. Party insiders believe it will also force them to recalibrate their strategy.

“The message is loud and clear for the BJP. People voted for the BJP because they wanted development and this verdict tells us that people do not want the government to deviate from the agenda. The verdict is screaming for good governance and it is a direct message from people to the BJP that if the central government doesn’t deliver on its promises, people will create an opposition party from vacuum," said a senior BJP leader in Delhi who asked not to be identified.

Other BJP leaders say, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was a strategic blunder to position this assembly election as a face-off between Arvind Kejriwal and Modi. And that by inducting former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi so late in the campaign as its chief ministerial candidate, the BJP at once highlighted its nervousness about not having a face in Delhi and triggered dissidence within the party.

“The result has halted the arrogant march of the BJP and it also shows the maturity of the voters of Delhi. The induction of Kiran Bedi proved to be a mistake on the part of the party and drastically affected its prospects," said Bidyut Chakrabarty, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

“The BJP had won 60 out of the 70 assembly segments in the Lok Sabha elections when the party managed to capture all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi. The BJP should not have lost Delhi in a span of eight months. It seems that campaign strategy was more about public meetings and big hoardings rather than actual contact with the people. The party must learn some lessons from this defeat and not start finding fault," said a second BJP leader in Delhi, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Insiders also argue that there is a need for the BJP to tone down its style and also contain fringe groups that have been aggressively pursuing religious conversions and communally divisive agendas.

“The people of the country gave the verdict to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the government must shout down people who are raising such issues. The verdict is against such kind of politics," added the second BJP leader.

“Fringe elements in BJP managed to alienate a large section of the non-minority voters," said P.K. Datta, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

BJP leaders conceded that the reverse was unexpected. “It is a huge setback and we did not expect such a setback," BJP leader Sudhanshu Trivedi told reporters.

Political analysts say that the BJP lost the election because the AAP’s election campaign was more effective, especially at the grassroots level.

“There was a sense of participation in AAP’s election campaign and the party managed to keep alive the memory of the 49-day government under Arvind Kejriwal. The government of the AAP was supported by the under privileged. The financially weak also saw the central government as pro-rich," said Datta.

Annoyed with election results, a section within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of the BJP, is making a case for course correction. Senior leaders of the RSS also believe that the government should heed the loss in Delhi and take urgent steps to recover lost ground.

“The government has to introspect on the reasons for the defeat. The time is right for the government to rethink its decisions that affect the people of the country, especially the recent labour reforms, allowing foreign direct investment in railways, insurance which have been opposed by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The government must also think again on the amendments it has proposed in the land acquisition bill," said a senior RSS leader.

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