Amit Shah, a veteran of many electoral campaigns against vicious and vile opponents, does not surprisingly have a knack to gauge the mood of the electorate. The Delhi election result is nothing but a kind of tsunami that has thrown BJP’s armada into a shambles. How come he didn’t see it coming? Or is it that he saw it early thus threw whatever he had in his arsenal to stop it. In both the scenarios it’s a serious strategic failure and the blame squarely lies with him.
I’m a veteran of electioneering and have been doing it since the age of 7. I would be made an election and counting agent by Jana Sangh leaders even while I was a minor. Polling officers, teachers of my government school in most cases, would give me a pass. I also had my name in the voter list, by the way. Elections were a fun thing for a free-spirited vagabond like me.
I would give speeches about Jan Sangh’s policies to crowds and once shared stage with the Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1969, at the age of 12, in my hometown Ballia. I delivered a pretty long 10-min speech to huge applause just before the great orator spoke, and was patted on the back by the veteran. Kalraj Mishra was the vibhag sangathan mantri of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in those days.
I was known for my bold and brash oratory even at that young age. Political leaders would complain to my father when I would name and shame them in my public diatribes. None taught me what to say. I spoke my mind freely and passionately. The dust and grime and toil and turmoil of electioneering were literally child’s play to me and as I grew up I begun to sense the mood of the people very quickly. It took little time for me to know which way the wind was blowing in the election season. I have not lost that knack ever since.
The humiliating electoral drubbing of 2015 soon after Obama visit in 2015 should have led to the evolution of a strong and accessible local leadership in Delhi in every constituency, and a complete revamp of the party unit to transform it into a responsive and fighting force of passionate young men and women steeped in nationalist ideology, well-honed in street activism, and ready to serve the people of Delhi with self-motivated zeal. Shah should have turned various Municipal Corporations run by BJP into shining examples of good corruption-free governance and BJP corporators into most popular grassroots workers in their respective areas.
And what did he do instead of that? He picked Manoj Tiwari as the president of the Delhi unit as the solution of his problems. Tiwari is neither a politician nor a social worker. He has no ideological convictions. I’m not sure if he is a good MP. I have never heard him in the parliament. His only advantage is that the Poorvanchali crowd loves his Bhojpuri singing. Has he evolved into a credible and visionary leader after being made the state chief? I doubt it. Has he been able to transform the state unit into a politically and strategically savvy band of societal warriors? I don’t think so.
So, Shah creates his own handicap; imposes his judgment on the local unit; and surrounds himself with a set of people who entirely depend on his ‘kripa‘ for political survival. They don’t have a mind of their own, and of course, their ears are more attuned to the party headquarters than to the people of Delhi.
In other words, he offers dummies as leaders to the people of Delhi. And then what he does is even worst. He relies on their feedback to develop electoral strategies.
Why a party that sweeps the parliamentary elections in Delhi with more than 50% votes bites the dust at the hustings within a span of seven months at the hands of a political party that stood third in the final electoral reckoning? It happens after BJP took some of the toughest decisions and solved the most intractable problems our Nation faced for decades. How does 2015 gets replicated in 2020 by AAP in spite of BJP’s claim of its non-performance?
I don’t buy the claim that the poor voted for the AAP for free electricity. If they were so much after freebies, why did they reject Congress’s offer of Rs 1,20,000/- per annum assured income? They voted BJP both in 2014 as well as 2019 and made it win handsomely. The poor JJ clusters directly face the Islamist goons and are humiliated by them every day. It’s the middle-class Punjabis, and Marwaris, who think they are too smart, who vote for AAP in the assembly poll.
The problem is BJP leadership does not address the fears of unorganised Hindus in JJ clusters and elsewhere in pursuit of ‘… Sab ka Vishwash‘ mirage. It does not want to get dirty. While the Shaheen Bagh horror show is a novelty for middle-class Hindus; for JJ Clusters, it’s an every-day existential issue. What have BJP leaders done to defend their honour?
During the Jamia stir, Kejriwal’s Delhi Minority Commission office was open at 3 PM in the night, writing letters for the release of arrested miscreants. BJP leaders don’t lose sleep over such issues. They won’t spoil their sleepover travails and turmoil of their loyalists.
I was in Delhi for a month. I could sense what was going on there. I did a lot of walking around the city and also talking during my Uber rides. On 1 and 2 February, I was walking on the Ashoka Road and suddenly I noticed the nameplate of Vijay Goel on one of the bungalows. There was no activity there. Generally, during an election period, houses of leaders should be buzzing with activity and people. There was no activity at this house.
Further down, somewhere before or after Patel Chowk, I heard someone shouting abuses at Modi. I asked the traffic guy where the noise was coming from. He pointed to Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma’s bungalow. There was a big digital screen there and Kejriwal’s virulent speech on Modi was being played in a loop, with a dozen disinterested layabouts like me standing around it and watching. Apart from that, there was no activity there.
This is not how you run a campaign. You cannot throw everything you have on your opponent and expect him to vanish. I have seen how with no support from the party and Indira Gandhi, the Congress candidates campaigned without posters and flags and vehicles in 1980 General Elections while Janta Party candidates like Chandrashekhar would spend money like water. He somehow saved his Ballia seat in 1980 winning by a small margin of 24,000 votes.
Shah thinks he can overwhelm the opponent with big newspaper and TV spend. Actually it’s such a waste of money. I have seen him following the same wasteful tactics election after election. BJP unwittingly and rather ironically funds the virulent opinion pieces and propaganda of anti-BJP Media during elections.
The most effective political tactics to earn active support of masses is to get down to the street level and take on the opponents and the establishment over solid public issues and create mass movements. This is not to the liking of most BJP leaders. I don’t see real fighters in BJP’s second rung leadership. For instance, Amit Malviya, BJP’s IT cell head, kept tweeting about unfulfilled promises of Kejriwal. There was talk of kids deliberately failed by the State’s Board of Education in lower classes to ensure better pass percentage in board exams. If this was the case, why didn’t BJP’s state leadership start a mass agitation over such injustice?
Take the example of Shaheen Bagh. A belligerent politically motivated community blocks an entire entry-exit point of a locality for more than 50 days. This was a gross injustice. People are suffering. A sensitive political activist would have done something about it, channelized mass outrage into a vociferous mass movement.
Where were BJP leaders? What stopped them from doing it? They were probably busy organising crowds for Amit Shah’s pathetic rallies. With much less effort and total support of the population, they would have mobilised far larger crowds in counter-protest to confront Shaheen Bagh goondas. This would have had a greater impact on Delhiites than all Modi-Shah-Yogi meetings combined. It would have exposed and unravelled Prashant Kishore’s cheap election strategies in no time.
The fact is political activism of the streets brings out leaders with a character who are sensitive to the suffering of the people. I’m not talking about designer dhol-majeera sort of routine Brechtian street theatre activism of Maoist/Marxist variety. True street activism is very spiritual. Here a leader reacts to misery, injustice and apathy around him/her and decides to act casting aside his personal and professional interests, doubts, and fears. He/she is a divine response to the cries and genuine concerns of hapless and ignored masses. It may sound clichéd but that’s how true leaders are born as opposed to ticket-seeking mushrooms that crowd around party offices in election season.