By Sreeparna Chakrabarty
He campaigned like a local leader, handpicked his own chief ministerial candidate for Delhi and made it a personal referendum on his leadership. Yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not halt the AAP juggernaut in these assembly polls and in the process lost his first election since his winning streak began with the Gujarat assembly polls in 2002.
Modi delivered Gujarat for his party for three consecutive terms in 2002, 2007 and 2012 after he was parachuted to the state from Delhi in 2001. His portrayal as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 general election was a direct result of this winning spree and he managed to win yet again with the BJP for the first time getting a full majority in the Lok Sabha.
Despite assiduous efforts by the party to firewall him from the defeat, the facts are inescapable that the BJP – and Modi personally – has paid the price for putting his own image and reputation at stake in a provincial poll.
In fact Kiran Bedi’s defeat in the Krishna Nagar constituency should be a personal defeat for Modi, who not only chose her in spite of her not even being a primary member of the party, but campaigned aggressively for her in ways no prime minister has done for a local poll.
The BJP campaign bypassed local leaders and focussed solely on Modi’s supposedly personal charisma. It was obvious that Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate was just a proxy and Modi intended to exploit his own larger than life image in this election.
Such was his hubris that Modi stuck his neck out and put himself loud and large in every advertisement of the party in the election – from bus shelters to billboards to newspapers.
All posters and full page advertisements in newspapers even on the day of polling had full blown pictures of Modi with Bedi, the party’s chief ministerial candidate, occupying only inset space at the bottom. In a personal letter to voters on election day Feb 7, Modi promised a “world-class city” and said it was his undertaking that he would make Delhi a city that its citizens would be proud of.
Modi held four rallies in the run up to the Delhi polls, stretching from Ambedkar Nagar to Rohini, but his party could not manage to win even four seats. Kejriwal raced home in 67 of the 70 assembly seats with his “paanch saal Kejriwal (Five years to Kejriwal)” slogan.
But will Modi be held accountable for the massive drubbing his party got in the Delhi polls?
Not if the party leaders and spokesmen are to be believed. Despite the call by Kirti Azad, a medium-level leader of the party, that “heads should roll”, most of the party faces that came on television sought to shield Modi and declared that it was “not a referendum on his prime ministership.”
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said it was not a national election and did not reflect on Modi. In fact, BJP President Amit Shah in an interview last week seems to have sought anticipatory bail for his leader saying: “Delhi polls will not be a referendum on Modi”.
Modi’s Rs.10 lakh suit with his name written on it during US President Barack Obama’s visit and his supposedly arrogant style of functioning seem to have rubbed people the wrong way.
Most political analysts have blamed his arrogant style for BJP’s massive defeat in the Delhi election. Veteran journalist and commentator Kuldip Nayar said: “The way the BJP carried out a Modi-centric campaign, any loss is of course a reflection on him (prime minister).”
Kejriwal’s win seems to be the beginning of a new political era for the country with a focus on local leaders and local issues – bijli, paani, sadak – instead of high voltage foreign policy initiatives which Modi seems to have shown a flair for.
The common man or the ‘Aam Aadmi’ seems to be asking the prime minister how his life can change even if Obama was Modi’s best friend.
As Congress leader Manish Tewari summed it up: “People wanted to teach BJP (read Modi) and its arrogance a lesson, they decided AAP is the instrument of their choice rather than Congress.”