The BJP's thundering defeat in Delhi was not due to any sudden merits of the Aam Aadmi Party, but to several problems inside the BJP itself. That much is not controversial. The debate is all about what exactly were the mistakes made.
1. Campaign strategy - We need not spend many words on the poor campaign strategy, contrasting with the campaign that brought Narendra Modi to power. It was disorganised and incoherent. It failed to excite the social media netizens, unlike the previous Prime Ministerial campaign where the netizens were gung ho about Modi being the PM and they watched each and every of his speeches. It also built on twenty years of neglect and confusion in the local BJP section.
2. Parachuting the CM Candidate - The parachuting of Kiran Bedi was not well received by the senior leaders of Delhi BJP as well as the volunteers who form the backbone of all BJP work. Kiran failed to excite them to work for her. Most of the active volunteers felt neglected by her as well as by the Delhi BJP leaders.
3. The rape issue -- The AAP not only built on old campaign tricks like promising freebies, but also had deliberately crafted a genuine appeal to each of the sections of society. In particular, it exploited the concern about women's safety far better than former police chief Kiran Bedi. While she belittled the widespread concern about rape, the AAP went all out to depict the BJP as the party that, while pontificating about the sacredness of women in Hindu tradition, failed to address this real-life concern.
4. Dustbin for Rejects - The BJP started becoming the dustbin for rejects from every corner. The rejects came in all shapes and sizes and with absolutely no adherence to the BJP ideology. So much so, it also included seculars like Shazia Ilmi who was seen obsessively campaigning against the BJP and asking Muslims to be more communal on television.
5. Wannabe Secularism - The BJP enjoys no real acceptance among the secularists and the minorities, but it keeps on craving this, even at the expense of its support base of Hindu activists. Kiran Bedi sought the usual certificate of good conduct from the secularists by declaring that since childhood she had rated all religions equal -- a statement not really offending the Hindu party workers but not generating any enthusiasm either. A candidate who lost his seat to the AAP, Rajinder Singh Sirsa, blames Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti's statement on Ramzade vs. Haramzade (Rama's descendents vs. "bastards", meaning Muslims) for costing him the Muslim vote (Indian Express, 11 Feb.). The statement is unworthy of a Minister and in fact of any serious Hindu, but Sirsa is living in a fool's paradise if he thinks that without it he would have gotten the Muslim vote. Using their own brains, or following a pro-AAP advice ("fatwa") by the Shahi Imam, the Muslims overwhelmingly voted for the party best placed to defeat the BJP. In the same fool's paradise you will also find the BJP leadership that keeps on courting the minorities, not comprehending their long-standing determination to help defeat the BJP at all costs. Buffoons keep thinking that their own conduct can do something about this determination, but this only shows contempt for the minorities: it assumes that they have no agency of their own and merely react to what you do.
6. Belittling the Hindu party workers - Over the years, the BJP has morphed from a Hindu party into a largely free-market party occupying the niche left unserved the the different varieties of Nehruvian socialists. These classical economic-liberals pontificate against the Hindu-minded party workers to whom each one of them owes his position (for nobody would do the thankless campaigning job for a cold economy-oriented party without a cultural agenda). For instance, Sandipan Deb writes ("BJP needs to decide", Swarajya, 10 Feb.): "The government has been totally unnecessarily drawn into controversies by members of its own party or the extended parivar. Wackos completely unknown till now have been crawling out of the woodwork and making outrageous statements — about imagined past glories, about historical rancour, about they-did-it-to-us and now we will do it to them." Only a secularist would reduce the Hindu agenda to these grievances, and remember that on the secularist side, the BJP will not garner votes, only opportunist job-seekers.
7. The Hindutva wackos – On the other hand, the condemnation of these Hindutva “wackos” is well-deserved. They speak from their underbellies, they have some vague and undirected pro-Hindu feelings and want to redress some real or perceived injustices, but beyond that, they are perfectly clueless. They say things that are not at all rooted in Dharma, such as a threat to kill all those who leave Hinduism, as Akshay Maharaj uttered (the death penalty for apostates exists, but in another religion). The solution is to provide them with leadership and to rally them around a programme that is both reasonable and sufficiently pro-Hindu.
Since its foundation in 1925, the RSS has not seriously rethought its ideology, then already questionable but now also hopelessly outdated. Since its foundation in 1980, the BJP has only watered down the ideology it started with, and now only banks on a historical loyalty of its workers. It gives no direction or rallying-point to the “wackos”. About his opponents, BJP president Amit Shah asks: "What is its [AAP's] ideology? The sum of all grievances cannot be called ideology." (India Today, 16 Feb.) But what is the BJP’s own ideology? Does the BJP’s record of governance reflect any ideology?
Long ago, a party leader justified the effective phasing out of Hindutva (including the dropping of the Ayodhya demand after reaping its electoral dividends in 1991) by saying that a party doesn’t need an ideology, only good governance. This anti-political position has gradually elbowed out the Hindutva stance with which the party is still identified.
A very good thing about the Delhi defeat is that the BJP suddenly has to face the new situation that, since it is now such a visible enemy, the anti-BJP voters have given up on the luxury of fighting one another, and have united behind whichever party is in a position to defeat the BJP. This may be reproduced in any election to come, especially the national election scheduled for 2019. Henceforth, they need to get not 35% (they got 32% and still were completely routed) but 51%.
This all-out electoral struggle requires enthusiasm among the party volunteers. This in turn requires building a record of achievements that can be seen as pro-Hindu in their results, but that are perfectly democratic and secular. Case in point: abolishing the (by definition unsecular) inequality between the religions in setting up educational institutions and managing places of worship. These are far more important issues for Hindu society than declaring a “Hindu Rashtra”, and need not offend the minorities.
If this is not done, defeat in 2019 becomes inevitable. But even that is a welcome eye-opener. Too many BJP people take for granted that they will be returned to power and use that perspective as an excuse for not delivering in the near future. Now they should realize that the present term in office is a unique window of opportunity that may never come back.