A preamble to the upcoming Delhi assembly elections and BJP’s strategy

“There is hardly any time to campaign, how will we even prepare for the elections?” questioned Moorarji Desai mournfully. George Fernandes even vociferously suggested that the opposition should boycott the elections as a mark of protest, for they had no chance of winning. Indira Gandhi, meanwhile was gathering mammoth crowds (sourced by sycophant local Congress leaders) wherever she went to address public rallies. Newspapers and intelligentsia were going gaga over the invincibility of the Congress party under the self-appointed empress of India.

It was January 1977 and hope was in the air after 19 months of despair, for emergency was finally loosened for electioneering. There were solid reasons for the positivity surrounding the Congress and the gloom that the opposition found itself in. The economy was in great shape as the country’s foreign exchange reserves had tripled in two years to touch the 2 billion dollar mark. For the first time there was industrial peace in the nation and production had gone up to record levels. Thanks to very good monsoons leading to bumper harvests, government’s food stocks had reached all-time high levels.

The opposition was in total disarray after their long stints in jails. Another contributing factor to the opposition’s despair was that although their leaders were released from jails, most of the rank and file were still imprisoned so opposition parties mostly lacked trained workers. Thus every leading indicator suggested that the Indira Gandhi led Congress party was heading for an emphatic victory despite her undemocratic emergency.

One man’s destiny though stood between Indira and Sanjay’s complete conquest of India. Jayaprakash Narayan truly believed that Indira could be defeated. JP arose to his historic role fearlessly and without an iota of doubt. JP of the mid 1970’s was in a timeless state of being who had freed himself from the burden of the future; the source of fear is in the future and a man unburdened from future has nothing to fear. He formulated a 3 point program for defeating Indira Congress, but for which history would never have turned;

  1. A common opposition list of MP contestants for the 1977 elections – effectively, formation of the Janata Party
  2. Going on an all-out campaign against Indira Gandhi and her maverick son, Sanjay Gandhi, with no room for complacency regarding not employing personal attacks as a political tool
  3. Utilizing the vast country-wide network of RSS cadre for the entire opposition campaign, disregarding useless political niceties of “secularism”

Whatever the eventual fate of the first Janata government, JP gave self-belief to a nation that the Nehru-Gandhis are as fallible as any average politician, for both mother and son lost their respective LS seats in family pocket boroughs – this was Jayaprakash Narayan’s destiny for India.

Almost 40 years later, India is going through a similar phase of anti-Congressism and as in the 1970’s, almost as if on cue, the liberal intelligentsia is trading doubts in TV studio debates and ushering confusion in newspaper op-eds. As always, secular-communal fault lines are being amplified in order to drown the anti-Congress mood of the nation. One man’s destiny is once again foreboding the final decimation of the Congress four decades after JP. It is time to have an unequivocal 3 point program to bring about a historic turn;

  1. Anointing NaMo as the PM designate and the entire party/parivar fighting under his leadership with no ifs and buts
  2. Declaring a full-fledged war against the Congress dynasty and their crimes, leaving no room for unnecessary political niceties
  3. Winning each of the upcoming 4 state assembly elections at any cost

The first two aspects are in the realm of political will, but the third one is about the fighting ability of BJP as a unit. Among the 4 states that go to polls, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are possibly tilting towards the BJP, but can still go either way. Even in Chhattisgarh, only a massive internal hemorrhage can cause a BJP defeat, although there is some degree of a two-term anti-incumbency. Thankfully, both in MP and Chhattisgarh, Congress is a weak and divided opposition which gives a big advantage to the BJP. Yet, it is quite possible that BJP may end up losing at least two of these three states just owing to the electoral roulette, for conventional electoral probability theorems do not give a big chance of a hattrick.

It all boils down to the fourth state of the national capital region of Delhi – possibly the weakest link in the BJP fabric today. As it is well-known – an organization’s strength is determined by its weakest link, so BJP has to take the Delhi assembly elections very seriously. Delhi as the union capital is also important for psycho-social reasons to build a positive political narrative as it is home to the news-media nerve centre and is also home to India’s top bureaucracy and intelligentsia.

A three-term anti-incumbency with a chief minister mired in humungous corruption charges and massive civil society protests having preceded the election year, it should have been a cakewalk for the main opposition party, the BJP in the national capital. Yet, nothing of that sort seems to be materializing on the ground. BJP, by all accounts, seems to be oblivious to the change that people of Delhi are yearning for. Two recent surveys conducted in Delhi have put the level of disenchantment in perspective: roughly 80% of the people in Delhi-NCR believe that both their state and the central governments (of Congress) are corrupt! If there ever is an anti-incumbency wave, then this is it. The BJP though is perfectly capable of snatching a defeat from the jaws of victory as demonstrated exactly in 2008.

Turnout could be the key

Anti-incumbency is not a new phenomenon in the state of Delhi; this Sheila Dixit government has been vastly unpopular for 7-8 years now, but has been in power due to the incompetence of BJP. It is quite rare in recent times that a political party could lose 8% vote share and still retain a state – which is exactly what happened in 2008, when Congress lost a whopping 8% vote-share but BJP couldn’t cash in on this.

Most of the swing away from the Congress seem to be bypassing the main opposition party and heading towards a third pole in Delhi (which was represented by mainly BSP in 2008), whilst the BJP has stagnated at around 35% levels. Similarly this time there could be a roughly 25% non-Congress, non-BJP vote-share pie for which parties like AAP can vie for. BJP’s strategy is simple;

  1. Garner the maximum out of the 75% joint Congress-BJP vote-share – at least a 3-4% overall gain is a must
  2. Try and occupy even small third-pole spaces among the remaining 25% voters – even a 1-2% dent will have a big impact on the overall outcome


  • It is a classic case of high turnouts helping BJP and low turnouts helping Congress, which confirms the simplistic urban electoral theory of the amount of enthusiasm among city dwellers to go out to vote being directly proportional to BJP’s performance
  • Once turnouts cross the 60% threshold, BJP has a good chance of winning this state – which creates a big area of opportunity as the voter turnout could potentially be in the 60-65% range this time
  • Challenge for the BJP is to get out of its stagnation range of 34-36% and take-off by appealing to broader social groups and enthusing new voters
  • Problem area for the BJP is that the vote-share of “Others” or the third-pole also corresponds to turnouts and can linearly benefit a new entrant like AAP

The solution to BJP’s woes in Delhi is both political as well as strategic in nature. The political aspect essentially relates to the geographic and demographic expansion of the party beyond its base, which in turn is dependent on providing the right leadership to a Delhi of our times. A cursory glance at the geographic base of the BJP is illustrative of its narrow presence in the state and tells the story of Congress domination. BJP must try and get out of its narrow channels and expand beyond its pockets of influence. Honest answers to the following questionnaire will go a long way in achieving this;

  1. Is the present state leadership charismatic enough to appeal to the voters of Delhi?
  2. Does the present state leadership have the capacity to take on the ruling party on 3 vital parameters; corruption, governance and law & order; without itself being ridiculed/belittled by neutral observers?
  3. What is the party’s realistic plan to reach out to voters beyond its Delhi-Punjabi-Baniya core with the current leadership?
  4. Has the present leadership utilized BJP’s strength in the MCD effectively, if yes, how? Is it possible to let a third party conduct an independent survey of all the BJP MCD corporators?
  5. Enumerate political moves of the state BJP to reach out to voters from adjoining Uttar Pradesh
  6. Will a NaMo-campaign have any impact at all on Delhi assembly elections?

A strategic outline for Delhi assembly elections

There are two fundamental strategic targets for the BJP in Delhi;

  1. Increasing voter turnout
  2. Attracting young and new voters away from non-Congress options like AAP

It has already been demonstrated as to how increased voter turnout helps BJP in Delhi. Over the last couple of years, Indian middle class has finally started to come of age and become increasingly assertive as seen in the various agitations against corruption and law & order issues. This latent middle class anger may finally begin to translate into actual voting and Delhi might become the harbinger of such an awakening. Increased voter turnout in 2013 Delhi assembly elections should help BJP by default. But there is a danger of smaller regional parties capturing vast proportions of the increased votes, thus BJP should not only strive but also should be seen to be a part of the process of the increased turnout by mobilizing the middle classes.

Strategic execution is 2 parts at the booth level, 1 part at the larger message level and 1 part at the leadership level. When all the four parts function synchronously, electoral victories are achieved with ease. In order to delve deeper into the second level, the 70 assembly seats of Delhi can be neatly classified into 4 categories for strategic purposes;

  1. Congress stronghold seats – include those seats that the Congress party has won with a margin higher than 5000 odd votes in 2008 assembly elections or the party has won them for the last 3 terms consecutively – 24 assembly segments
  2. BJP stronghold seats – include those seats that BJP has won with a margin higher than 5000 odd votes in the 2008 assembly elections or the party has won them for the last 3 terms consecutively – 16 assembly segments
  3. Others seats – which have consistently elected non-Congress and non-BJP candidates – 4 assembly segments
  4. Battleground seats – where the victory margin is less than 5000 odd votes between Congress and BJP – 26 assembly segments

Generally stronghold seats are difficult to breach unless there is a wave election. If anything, the chances are that 2013 assembly election will be accentuated by an anti-Congress wave. Therefore the chances of Congress losing some of its strongholds is more likely than the opposition losing its strength areas. Thus for strategic purposes, let us forego the 44 assembly segments of the first 3 categories and concentrate our energies on the 26 battleground seats for now.

  • Congress strongholds and weak victories of 2008 are almost equal, rendering it vulnerable to even minor swings
  • Only 30% of BJP victories are in the sub-5k levels which suggests that it has bottomed out in Delhi and has a strong chance of a victory in the next assembly elections
  • Of the 26 battleground seats 11 are new ones that have been carved out in the post-delimitation era of 2008 – among these Congress has won 7, whereas BJP has managed victories only in 4
  • 12 of the remaining 15 old battleground assembly seats (existing since before delimitation) broadly correspond to the same pattern of past high voter turnouts resulting in BJP victories and low turnouts helping the Congress – which again portends the importance of high turnouts for the BJP even at the micro level (refer to annexure 2)
  • An average of 14000 new voters have been added since 2008 (6 assembly seat random sampling method) in the 26 battleground seats which is roughly 3-times the previous victory margin
  • Targeting these new voters using non-traditional methods like internet/social media campaigning is of paramount importance for the BJP in Delhi (refer to case study)

Mathematically, this is a BJP’s election to lose. Respective positioning of both the main parties is such that it is advantage BJP in the state of Delhi. Positive swing towards the Congress brings lesser gains and away swing reduces the tally exponentially. Whereas in the case of the BJP it is the exact opposite; positive swing gives greater gains and away swing reduces seat tally only marginally. This is a typical case of High base v/s Low base fight that has come into picture due to a gap of 4%

Data Source: Election Commission of India {Lighter shades of respective colours show degree of weakness}

Congress has reached a position in this state where every percentage swing away from the party accounts for 5 seat losses. For instance a 3% negative swing away from the Congress would mean a tally lesser by 15 seats. Every positive percentage swing in favour of the Congress only adds 2 additional seats; that is, with a 3% positive swing the party can only win 6 new seats. On the other hand, the exact opposite is true for the BJP; every percentage point of positive swing can add about 4 seats to the tally, whereas every percentage point of negative swing away from the party can reduce the tally by 2 seats.

A 3% swing in favour of the BJP will impact the battleground seats and the party will touch the halfway mark of 35. The 12 additional seats thus won would be: 1] Adarsh Nagar, 2] Malviya Nagar, 3] Timarpur, 4] Kasturba Nagar, 5] Mehrauli, 6] Model Town, 7] Mustafabad, 8] Patparganj, 9] Shahdara, 10] Tri Nagar, 11] Vikas Puri and 12] Wazirpur.

These 12 seats possibly hold the key to Delhi and BJP desperately needs a positive swing of 3% coming in to secure the road to Delhi.

Epilogue: On one aspect that Narendra Modi has to emulate JP is in fearlessly rising to his historic role. The first big test for Modi is in Delhi, for it is here that BJP needs tweaking, among all the 4 states that are going to polls before the year end. It is paramount that BJP tap the latent anger of Delhi, if necessary by reaching out to civil-society groups and the anti-corruption movements (especially the non-Kejriwal factions). It is also necessary to move beyond the traditional BJP leadership and voters to tap on to newer social groups using newer political and technological tools. This is Modi’s chance to reach out beyond the comfort zone, just like JP reached out to the RSS in the 70’s despite much internal opposition. Narendra bhai has the wherewithal to deal with these issues, but does he have the fearlessness remains to be seen.

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Praveen Patil

Praveen Patil

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.