NEW DELHI: BJP's voter base in Delhi since 1998 seems to have suffered no dent notwithstanding the unprecedented drubbing it received in this election even as Congress' vote share has seen a free fall.
BJP had secured 34.02 per cent vote share in the 1998 Assembly elections when Sheila Dikshit-led Congress dislodged the party from power, while it managed to retain 32.2 per cent of the votes this time.
During the Assembly elections in the intervening years, BJP 's vote share averaged 35 per cent despite failing to come to power. It got 35.22, 36.34 and 33.07 per cent share in the 2003, 2008 and 2013 Assembly elections, respectively.
For Congress, the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party has meant its downfall, from the impressive 1998 vote share of 47.76 per cent to an all time low of 9.7 per cent in this election.
In the 2013 Assembly polls, AAP registered 29.49 per cent vote share, surpassing Congress's 24.55 per cent.
For the once-mighty Congress in the capital, the Lok Sabha polls were an indication of darker days ahead as its vote share fell further to 15.1 per cent, whereas despite drawing a blank in terms of seats, AAP's vote share increased to 32.9 per cent.
With 54.3 per cent vote share, AAP also secured 67 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly in this election dealing a death blow to Congress.
By the evening of February 10, the day the Delhi election results came, the shouting brigades on TV channels, consisting of the usual so-called experts, had become louder. The print media the next morning carried learned articles on why the BJP lost and why AAP won.
AAP, naturally, was showered with fulsome praise for the manner in which it strategised the elections. The BJP was criticised for doing everything wrong. It was a reverse of what had happened in May 2014 when the BJP had won a resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP could do no wrong then. It can do no right now. Not surprising at all. The old theory of the winner-takes-all is applied on all such occasions.
Any election result is an outcome of myriad factors. Yet, in the Delhi elections, the explanation is simpler than we imagine. As the day progressed and the defeat of the BJP became imminent, a friend called me and said this was our ‘Bhuvaneshwar Mehta’ moment.
Let me explain. I had lost to Bhuvaneshwar Mehta in 2004 Lok Sabha elections by a huge margin of 1,05,000 votes. I had won the same election in 1998 against the same person by 1,64,000 votes and the 1999 election by 1,83,000 votes. What had gone wrong in 2004?
Between 1998 and 1999, I had hardly done any developmental work in the constituency, busy as I was with affairs of state in Delhi as Union finance minister. By 2004, I had made up and done an enormous amount of developmental work in my constituency. I also used to visit it regularly. Yet, I could not retain the seat in 2004 and lost it to the CPI candidate Bhuvaneshwar Mehta. The external affairs minister of India was forced to bite the dust by an inconsequential local-level leader.
The same was the fate of 12 other BJP candidates in Jharkhand, where we lost 13 out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats. A quick analysis showed that I had, indeed, retained my vote bank, which had resulted in huge wins earlier. Yet, in 2004, it was not adequate enough to stop me from losing by a huge margin. In 1998 and 1999, the opposition against me was divided. In 2004, the entire opposition was united and all the non-BJP votes went mostly to a single candidate.
The same thing has happened in Delhi in 2015. The BJP vote share has declined only by 0.9% between the last assembly election and this. Yet, the seat share has declined from 32 to three. There is no point in comparing the performance of assembly elections with Lok Sabha elections. The two are entirely different ball games.
The simple explanation for the BJP’s rout in Delhi is the consolidation of the non-BJP votes in favour of AAP rather than being dispersed in a multi-cornered contest. Credit, no doubt, has to be given to AAP for projecting itself as the only credible alternative to the BJP, compared to any other party, especially the Congress. While that is a measure of the success of AAP’s strategy, the failure of the consists of not being able to split the non-BJP votes.
This simple explanation of BJP’s defeat has escaped most commentators and they have gone to town at this first opportunity after the Lok Sabha elections to belabour the BJP. It starts with the ineptitude of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine, to the arrogance of the BJP leaders, to the non-performance of the Modi government, to the selection of Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate, to the indifference of the BJP cadres, to the pinstriped suit of Modi.
The fault does not lie there. The fault lies in the first-past-the-post system of our elections. There are, no doubt, lessons to learn, which I am sure the party will. But to project it as the end of the world for the BJP is entirely misplaced.
The writer is a former Union minister