The Goliaths got it wrong in Delhi. They fell, and fell very hard

AAP was able to corner aspirational votes from BJP and unguarded votes from Congress, as they made tactical mistakes

mantosh

Mantosh Sharma | February 19, 2015


#Delhi assembly polls   #delhi elections   #delhi aap   #aam aadmi party   #congress   #bjp  

I am not going to repeat the biblical story here; I have used this word for two giants and powerful adversaries of the AAP. The two national parties, the BJP and Congress, with decades of political existence and experience lost the election to the small and novice political force AAP. My intention here is not to write about their fall. Too much has already been written about this election. I want to analyse, when the giants fell, why they fell very hard. The Congress has been totally decimated and the only comfort the BJP had in this humiliating defeat was that it was able to hold on to its 2013 vote share. Both national parties committed too many tactical mistakes during the campaign

Let us analyze a little bit. We will start with the Congress party of India. First and foremost, for a political party to be successful in electoral politics, it is very necessary to clearly identify your opposition. In my opinion, Congress positioning itself against the BJP or Modi was the wrong strategy and the plan based on this hypothesis was wrong. The Congress should have positioned itself against the AAP. By positioning against the BJP and Modi, the Congress gave the AAP an opportunity to enter in its base vote without much opposition. The AAP was campaigning very hard in opposition political space, which is more or less the traditional vote of the Congress. The BJP (campaign) was an opportunity, which was helping to mobilise opposition votes for the Congress and AAP.

Secondly, the Congress should have brought in Sheila Dikshit and should have fought the election under her leadership. She was the only one who had lots of stories to show and tell on development in Delhi. Anti- incumbency anger already had popped up in the 2013 election.

Secondly, she could have been used to take the air out of AAP’s promise, questioning details of its manifesto and its implementation. There was no noticeable political dialogue other than Modi-bashing in the Congress campaign. There was nothing new coming out which had not been mentioned in Gujarat, parliamentary election or in the recently concluded state elections. It felt like the Congress had no message.

And some of the tactical errors were related to campaign execution. Rahul Gandhi held meetings in chosen safe constituencies like north-west Delhi from where Jaikishan had got elected three times. This very act of hand-holding road show in a favourable constituency helped solidify the perception of a political party that had no leader who could lead from the front. This leadership gap was highly visible and every orchestrated move to make him a leader was looking very phony. Leaderless Congress’ vote share had to move, and it did. When it moved it moved horizontally to the AAP, very smoothly. The Congress vote share came down 24.5% to 9.8% in the 2015 election.

Similarly, the Jayanti Natrajan saga was a ploy from the BJP to boost the Congress. Yes, I said that right. The BJP wanted to prop up the Congress by drawing the media attention away from the AAP. The Congress response on this was pitiful. Whole Congress apparatus and leadership got engaged in defending this. Here is an excerpt from Rahul’s speech: “Ek din maine Modiji ke baare mein kuch kaha, agle din unhone Natrajan ko khada kiya”. This attempt to prop up the Congress was a tactical mistake by the BJP, or Goliath 2. The actual fight of the Congress was with David aka AAP, which was eating the vote share without getting direct political challenge from the Congress.

Although there weren’t big expectations from the Congress, there was a general consensus that the party would be able to secure few seats based on individual popularity of candidates. But this hope too got decimated.

Now let us analyse how Goliath2 (BJP) fell very hard. The BJP was in trouble even before the election had started. It was preparing to use same political strategy model, which they used in recently completed state elections where they were very successful. The core strategy of excessive campaigning, social engineering, fragmented opposition and negative campaigning was very much in question in Delhi from day one. Delayed election and sidelining the local leadership by bringing in outsiders were reasons which had made the BJP vulnerable from the day its official campaign begun. However, the BJP got exasperated and the situation got worse fallowing tactical mistakes.

Kiran Bedi should have been used as a leader who had an activist background, leader against corruption and symbol of strong and stable governance. She should have been allowed to campaign as Kiran Bedi. Instead, she was painted in “Bhagwa”. She gave statements like “RSS is a nationalist party”. She was given a safe seat to fight the election. This was very similar to the orchestrated leadership tango by the Congress for Rahul Gandhi. She failed to look like a leader, neither in her speeches nor in action. This action created doubt about her ability to win on her own. Weak leadership and bhagwa branding made her a liability.

It was a mistake to put very high-profile dignitaries, including the PM, cabinet ministers and MPs, to campaign. It shook the confidence of the local organisation and created a perception that something was wrong with the BJP. This fear became apparent in middle and upper middle class voters.

Third tactical mistake was continuous churning and visible course correction in midst of election. It was a mistake to take Shazia Ilmi and Avtaar Singh Bhadana, at a time when none of them added value.

If stories in media are true regarding the timing of Jayanti Natrajan outburst, then bringing her out during the election was a serious tactical mistake. The BJP needed a strong Congress to split the opposition vote. All these created enough doubt in the minds of aspirational middle class voters about the BJP’s ability to lead. The BJP regained its 32% core vote share but lost the aspirational crowd which had voted for Modi in parliamentary elections.

The AAP took full advantage and had a special team which made it sure that these shortcomings and the mistakes by the BJP and Congress, did not go unnoticed by the voters. AAP’s 25% vote share gain over 2013 election was from the Congress, BSP, as well as from the BJP. They were able to move aspirational votes from the BJP and unguarded votes from the Congress. Tactical mistakes end up enhancing tectonic movement of electoral base and respectable loss translated into the deaths of Goliaths.

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