The BJP's rout (and the Congress' landslide victory) in this week's Delhi local body polls hasn't surprised anyone, least of all the Sangh parivar. The cracks in the saffron fraternity, which surfaced for the first time in the wake of the UP assembly polls, became glaringly obvious in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections. For the BJP, it was an abject lesson in what happens to its electoral fortunes when the Sangh worker turns his back on the party.
Losing any election in stronghold Delhi is a tremendous loss of face for the BJP—it boasts seven Lok Sabha MPs from the state. In a way, admitted a BJP MP from Delhi, it was an indictment of the Centre: the "anti-incumbency" feeling against Shiela Dixit's Congress government was swallowed up by that against the Union government.
The BJP's backbone in Delhi, the middle-class urban voter, ditched the party. Barely having recovered from the shock of the uti debacle, they were hit by the Budget, which reduced tax exemption for savings and lowered ppf interest rates. For the 14 lakh central and state government employees and their families, the spectre of job cuts and VRS was enough to turn them away from the BJP.
The writing was on the wall as early as March 3, when, at a Vishwa Hindu Parishad meeting, its workers were told they needn't help the BJP this time around. Acharya Giriraj Kishore and other senior VHP leaders present made it clear that the workers were not expected to participate in the MCD elections. Given the clout wielded by the VHP-controlled "temple committees" in many parts of Delhi, it was a body blow for the party's electoral prospects.
What is even more worrying is that the fabled Sangh discipline cracked. Despite the Delhi RSS' directives and its pro-active role in ticket distribution, workers remained apathetic. They worked only in isolated municipal segments and in some parts of outer and west Delhi. Some were even seen pitching for Congress nominees.
An RSS pracharak of long standing, who prides himself on being a third year graduate of Sangh shiksha, says the average Sangh worker is upset with the BJP and his own leaders: "Of the 76 BJP corporators in the last MCD, 53 had an RSS background. Not more than seven or eight enjoyed a reputation for probity. So how can they expect us to work for them?" Besides, he says, the RSS worker may not expect a share in the loaves or fishes of office, but he doesn't expect to be completely marginalised.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) workers are also unhappy with the current dispensation, for its perceived "anti-labour" policies. The Sangh-affiliated BMS has made no secret of its opposition to the proposed labour reforms. Within the parivar there is considerable resentment against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), whose former members are seen as having cornered all the plum jobs and extracted maximum concessions from the BJP government.
Adding to the discontent was the interference by central leaders in ticket distribution. The process of interviewing candidates and block-level leaders before finalising the list of names was bypassed.
In many parts, BJP workers did not even bother to conduct the pre-electoral exercise of distributing parchis, or election slips to voters. For the first time, even hardcore BJP supporters didn't bother to vote. "We couldn't vote for the Congress, but we did not want to vote for the BJP," said an RSS member, who's a regular at Sangh meetings.
The workers' apathy communicated itself to the party leaders and vice-versa. And with MPs Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma confining themselves to their own respective areas, the burden fell on the already overworked shoulders of BJP Lok Sabha chief whip and South Delhi MP, V.K. Malhotra. Party sources said Malhotra had a hard time convincing BJP leaders to hold even campaign meetings. "It was pathetic to hear him pleading with central ministers to devote just a couple of hours to public meetings," they said.
Khurana virtually dissociated himself from the polls. Even after desperate calls from party president Jana Krishnamurthy, he campaigned only in his own area. Khurana's contention was that the BJP eeds to address three issues before fighting elections: relocation of small industries closed pursuant to the Supreme Court order, provision of adequate CNG or a moratorium on conversion to CNG and regularisation rather than demolition of unauthorised constructions. The Centre hasn't been able to address any of them.
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