Urban and middle class India is returning to BJP fold
The Congress party that had swept Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Jammu and several other major urban constituencies across the country in the 2009 parliamentary elections is on a losing streak. It tasted defeat in all cities that went to polls in the recent past. It failed to dislodge BJP-SS combine in Bombay municipal elections, fared badly in Pune and Nagpur. It lost power in Bangalore Municipal Corporation and came a cropper in Delhi municipal polls. The party’s performance in UP was a huge setback so were the defeats in Goa and Punjab – two states it was confident of winning. It did win Uttarakhand by a whisker but it is a poor consolation. These verdicts are a reflection of country’s anti-Congress mood.
The BJP that was traditionally perceived to be a middle class party with a stronger base in urban areas as compared to Congress has performed much better in all cities and states that went to polls recently with the exception of UP where its performance was dismal. As of now, BJP is no longer merely an urban middle class party. It can take pride that it is now a force to reckon with in rural and Vanvasi areas in several states including Jammu, Himachal, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. In the last parliamentary elections, the BJP could win only 14 out of 45 major urban seats in the country. Recent assembly and municipal elections show the urban and middle classes are back in BJP’s fold. That is how it could regain much of the ground the party had lost in Uttarakhand and Punjab during the last few years.
BJP’s success in retaining power in Delhi with a handsome margin is yet another confirmation of the change in public mood. This victory is significant because of the reality that there is not much to boast about the performance of the BJP-run Delhi Municipal Corporation. The city lacks civic amenities and several party municipal councillors lost credibility and popularity. Ticket allocation caused a lot of disenchantment among party cadres and a large number of rebels – almost as many as from the Congress – left the party or sabotaged the party campaign in their respective wards. Rebels damaged the party with a varying degree of success. Several of them, particularly in South Delhi Corporation, scored impressive victories in their wards or reduced the margin of party’s victory. In certain wards, the party was relegated to the third position because of the resentment against its nominees. Senior party leader M Venkaiah Naidu lamented that the party could and should have won more handsomely. BJP has a right to rejoice in its victory but in the euphoria of having “swept the polls” the party shouldn’t sweep under the carpet the negatives that emerged in these elections. That the BJP had to woo rebels who had won as Independents or as nominees of marginal parties is a reflection on the ticket distribution system or the distortions that have crept into it. It is a matter of deep concern to the party. While ensuring that glitches in ticket distribution are reduced to a minimum, the party needs to deal firmly with those who violated party discipline. Forget and forgive is not for those who betray the party.
Urban middle class’s growing disenchantment with the Sonia-led Congress party is not only because of mega corruption and intolerable price rise during the UPA II rule but also against total lack of governance and mismanagement of national affairs. One of the additional factors in the Congress party’s defeat in the elections to three municipal corporations in Delhi is the Sheila Dikshit led Government’s failure to honour the solemn promises she made on the eve of last assembly elections particularly her loud-mouthed announcement that her Government would regularise all unauthorised colonies. It didn’t regularise a single unauthorised colony. That is why Congress fared badly in its traditional strongholds like unauthorised and resettlement colonies and JJ clusters. There is utter lack of civic amenities in these localities. People living in these areas in miserable conditions have taught the Congress a lesson. It is both an opportunity and a challenge to the BJP that has returned to power at the municipal level. Will it seize the opportunity by providing drinking water, drainage, toilets and schools all over the city including localities inhibited by economically weaker and deprived sections of society and desists the temptation to make promises that no party can fulfill in view of the financial and other constraints?
Although the results in 2007 and now in the civic polls appear to be similar as both the major parties won almost the same number of wards, yet there was a lot of churning. A little less than half the wards changed hands. The Congress could retain only 40 per cent of wards it held in the previous House, whereas BJP managed to retain 67 per cent of its seats. Most of the Independents who won in this election are rebels from the Congress and BJP indicating that both parties suffered from identical problems of wrong distribution of tickets and indiscipline. A disturbing development is that Delhi blast accused Zai-ur-Rehman contested municipal elections while lodged in jail and lost to the Congress candidate in Zakir Nagar ward by a narrow margin. He and a dozen others are facing trial in connection with Delhi serial blasts that killed 35 people and injured 135 others. The Congress candidate managed to escape defeat by doling out promise of getting “justice” for the accused in the Batla House encounter in which a police inspector lost his life. That the suspected Indian Mujahedeen operative managed to secure 7677 votes against Congress nominee’s 8,194 in a Muslim-dominated ward is a sad commentary on the commitment of a large section of the community to national security.
A close look at the data released by the Delhi Election Commission has brought to light several interesting dimensions of the verdict. BJP won 138 seats with 36.70 lakh votes i.e. 36.71 per cent of valid votes polled. The Congress followed up with 77 seats with 30.54 lakh votes i.e. 30.54 per cent votes (BJP secured 6.16 lakh more votes than the Congress). Victory of 15 nominees of BSP, five of RLD and two of SP indicates that there was no consolidation of Muslim, Scheduled Castes and Jat votes. RLD fought on the issue of reservation to Jats in services and was, therefore, able to wean away a large section of voters belonging to the community. This cut into the support base of Congress as well as BJP. NCP captured six seats in a single area where a former Congress MLA joined the NCP some time back. His personal pull with the local voters appears to be the main factor in NCP winning in so many wards. Janata Dal (Secular), Panther Party, RJD and Shiv Sena too had the misfortune of all their candidates losing their deposits. All but one of the 70 LJP candidates too had a similar fate as most candidates of other marginal parties. SP entered the fray with a bang but only six out of its 107 candidates could save their deposits. 208 of 272 nominees of the BSP too failed to secure 1/6th of valid votes. Surprisingly, 26 Congress candidates and 18 belonging to the BJP also fell in the same category. Another interesting feature of the result is that all but one of the 35 candidates belonging to the AIFB, CPI and CPM lost their deposits. Miserable performance of the left parties at the mass level is in sharp contrast to their domination of media, academic and other institutions in the capital.