And yet, today, there is no BJP government in charge and, with the emergence of a sting video showing the party attempting to buy off an AAP legislator, the prospects of one are looking a lot dimmer than the glad tidings of May. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah were supposed to bring decisiveness to a party that has often been accused of having too many competing leaders. Yet in the Capital, under the Prime Minister’s nose, things remain muddled.
What has gone wrong?
*The heat of the moment
In the immediate aftermath of the BJP and Modi’s massive electoral victory, Delhi must have seemed like a minor concern. It is a symbolically important assembly to control, no doubt, but one with little real power and no potential landmarks for the BJP. The party headquarters has paid much more attention to exciting expansion plans in Kerala, Bengal and elsewhere rather than deal with the confusing situation in the capital.
Take the local unit leadership alone. BJP Delhi President Dr Harsh Vardhan had to vacate his seat after he was elected to the Lok Sabha and given a cabinet post. But it took the party nearly two months to pick another president, Satish Upadhyay, who would end up being appointed on the last day of Rajnath Singh’s tenure as national president of the BJP.
This neglect allowed the wound of last year’s botched almost-victory to fester, with most party workers unclear what the BJP intended to do. The party that should have had an easy path to power in December seemed to be too failing to capitalise on popular sentiment in its favour, despite a decisive Prime Minister at the helm.
*Game of Thrones
Is it possible for a state unit to be more fractious than an entire national party? In Delhi, it certainly seems that way. BJP president Amit Shah and Modi appear to have a firm hold on the party nationally, yet the battle for the Delhi unit still seems like anyone’s game. This has always been the BJP’s problem and Harsh Vardhan’s Lok Sabha victory didn’t help, since it took the local unit's one pre-eminent leader and put him out of the running.
That leaves a rather unappetising set of options for the chief ministerial candidate. There are those who have tried before, like former state unit chiefs Vijay Goel and Vijender Gupta, and those who would like to have a go at it, including the new state president Upadhyay and former Delhi finance minister Jagdish Mukhi. And there are lots of other names floating around, from the last year’s buzz about former Indian Police Service officer Kiran Bedi to current Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani.
Amit Shah appears to be too busy with elections in Haryana and Maharashtra and expansion elsewhere to step in and pick a leader, although he might have been forced to do so if the party had gone ahead with its plans before the AAP sting. With that having been called off ‒ and internal battles about who should be held responsible for this serious setback ‒ the leadership question remains an open one.
*State vs Centre
The infighting isn’t just limited to those hoping to take charge of the Delhi unit. There have been serious disagreements between Centre and state about how to approach Delhi. The central leadership appears to have mostly preferred going in for fresh elections. The local MLAs, however, are quite concerned that whichever of the factions ends up on top in the run-up to fresh polls will dole tickets out accordingly ‒which could endanger their own chances of holding on to coveted assembly seats.
As a result, the state leadership has been desperately pushing for a government to be formed at any cost without elections. This seems to have resulted in exactly the thing that AAP was hoping for: the BJP’s vice president offering Rs 4 crore to an AAP legislator to resign from his post.
The publicity of the sting operation has made it difficult for any sort of government to be formed. Even if disgruntled AAP or Congress MLAs want to defect, the BJP is unlikely to trust any of them and, moreover, a cobbled-together government would have little legitimacy after this sort of incident. But that doesn’t change the incentives of the BJP MLAs who don’t want to give up their posts and would prefer to find another way ‒ including floating the obscure, secret ballot option that would allow them to hold on to power as a minority government.
*AAP and down
First AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal apologised for stepping down as chief minister of Delhi in February. Then, after it was clear that the resignation had hurt AAP’s chances everywhere but Punjab the most, he apologised again. But then, in what seemed like a desperate move to paint Modi’s popularly elected government as tyrannical, Kejriwal voluntarily went into jail in May and tried to get his followers to be put behind bars. The move was openly seen as a publicity stunt and the word "dramebaaz" was added to the "bhagoda" tag that has followed Kejriwal around.
At the time, it seemed like the AAP phenomenon had fully run out of steam and even the party’s core capital constituency ‒ autorickshaw drivers ‒ were questioning Kejriwal’s antics. As a sanguine BJP watched on, however, inflation stayed high, Delhi began to face power and water cuts and the 24x7 electricity promises started to seem not just hollow but brazen.
Acche Din went from being a promise into a joke. And despite the other parties’ best efforts to downplay it, an AAP rally at Jantar Mantar managed to bring out large crowds and even curious onlookers. Now with what seems like video evidence of the Delhi BJP’s horse-trading, Delhi's residents have stopped talking about the fact that Kejriwal stepped down and instead looking back fondly at the drop in bribe demands over those 49 days.
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