The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing a severe political crisis in the national capital, where it has been out of power for the past 22 years. After Tuesday, that stretch in exile is set to top 27 years.
The party on Tuesday faced a major electoral defeat in the Delhi assembly elections, winning only 8 seats out of 70, humbled yet again by the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won a landslide victory with 62 seats. This was despite the BJP considerably improving its vote share in Delhi to 38.5%, an increase of nearly 6 percentage points from the 2015 assembly polls. The BJP had won three seats in 2015 assembly polls with a vote share of 32%.
“The problem for the BJP is that the election became a straight fight against AAP. In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won all seven seats. This time we had expected a division of votes between the Congress and AAP to benefit the BJP but that did not happen," said a senior BJP leader who was involved in its election strategy.
Senior leaders of the party believe that the mandate for AAP and its national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal indicates that while people prefer to vote for the BJP in national elections because of the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it may not be the case when it comes to assembly elections where the BJP has a direct contest with the chief minister.
“The leadership of the BJP in Delhi is riddled with differences and is mostly about experiments. During the 2013 assembly polls, the party promoted Union minister Harsh Vardhan as the chief ministerial face. In 2015 it was cop-turned-politician Kiran Bedi. This time there was no chief ministerial candidate and the chief of the party unit is Manoj Tiwari. In the seven years since the advent of AAP, the BJP has changed its leadership thrice in Delhi," the BJP leader said.
Party leaders also said that while national issues such as surgical strikes or the Balakot strike had helped set the tone of the party’s election campaign in the Lok Sabha elections, issues such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Population Register, and the abrogation of Article 370 did not create the same atmosphere for it against what they call the populist pitch of AAP.
“The campaign of BJP was mainly related to national issues, whereas AAP’s campaign was about giving subsidies to people, because of lower electricity bills, water bills, and free bus rides. People gained immediately because of the Delhi government," the BJP leader said.