At the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Delhi state headquarters on Pandit Pant Marg near the Gole Dak Khana, dejected cadre members had only the cheerful photographs of absent leaders to look to for solace as the assembly election results trickled in. Cut-outs of a smiling Kiran Bedi and Narendra Modi flanked the gate at the entrance, but at 11 am, the office seemed bereft of any BJP leaders.
A motley crew of about ten or so cadre members had gathered in the compound, trying to make sense of the possible reasons that had contributed to the unexpected thrashing their party had received. Said one of the people at the venue, “Jo log ground se jude huey thhey, unhe koi mahattva nahi mila” (People doing the groundwork weren’t given any importance). They animatedly discussed how the cadre had been ignored by the central leadership that chose to field “outsiders” instead. Shazia Ilmi and Krishna Tirath’s names were brought up and Kiran Bedi’s name was implicit in the discussion, although no one mentioned her specifically.
Any new BJP member who walked into the compound had the same question, “Yeh kya ho gaya?” (How did this happen?). However, not everyone who indulged in this rhetoric seemed to be upset. A few were smiling, others looked bemused and some of them expressed surprise. While begrudgingly coming to terms with the overwhelming support that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had received, one of the workers announced that if Kejriwal did not manage to come through on all the promises that he had made during the campaign, even with this mandate, “jootey padengey” (he would be beaten with shoes).
The mandate that the AAP has taken on is reminiscent of the BJP’s victory with a clear majority in the national general elections last year. While the scale and the causal factors involved cannot be compared, the AAP has definitely bettered that record, winning an absolute majority with over 50 percent of the vote share.
The lawn inside the BJP office had been prepared in anticipation of a large press conference. The background was adorned with a banner that read, “Chalo chalein Modi ji ke saath; mil kar karein Dilli ka vikaas” (Come, walk with Modi. Together we will develop Delhi). Imposing images of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah loomed over an empty stage that could have easily seated twenty people.
The stage was already being dismantled when Satish Upadhyay, Delhi’s BJP chief, arrived at the headquarters at 11.20 am. Wearing a blue linen kurta under a beige Modi jacket, Upadhyay wasted no time in pleasantries and went straight to his office, which was now the venue for a smaller press conference.
Inside Upadhyay’s office, photographs of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani on one wall faced images of Modi and Shah on another. Someone switched the television on to watch the latest update on the results as Upadhyay took his chair and got ready for the waiting cameras. According to the news, the BJP was leading or winning in only five of a total of seventy seats. The AAP had won or was ahead at sixty-four, while the Congress had drawn a blank. A jubilant Kejriwal, flanked by Ashutosh, Kumar Vishwas and Manish Sisodia was addressing his supporters. In stark contrast, a lonely Upadhyay assumed responsibility for his party’s defeat at the BJP office. He congratulated the AAP and promised them constructive support too.
There were around twenty-five reporters in total, with a dozen journalists from television and the remaining from print. The television journalists who proceeded to interview Upadhyay first, tried several times, and in multiple ways, to get Upadhyay to comment on the accountability of either the BJP’s central leadership or Kiran Bedi for this loss, but he did not take the bait. The journalists reminded him that the effort had been spearheaded by Shah, that Modi had relentlessly campaigned in the city, and cabinet ministers and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders had taken the responsibility of campaigning in individual constituencies, yet they had failed. One of the reporters said that he had been told by someone outside, that this was a loss for the BJP, but a victory for the cadre, and asked Upadhyay if he agreed with this analysis. Upadhyay refused to answer the question directly and stated that the party would introspect and take corrective measures.
Soon, the television reporters vacated the room to make way for the print journalists to interact with Upadhyay. As they moved in, Upadhyay asked, addressing no one in particular, “Krishna Nagar ka kya margin hai?” (What is the margin in Krishna Nagar?) This East Delhi constituency that had been a BJP safe seat since 1993 under senior party leader Harsh Vardhan, was where Kiran Bedi was contesting from. Someone said that the competition was still “neck to neck”. Upadhyay shifted his attention to the new set of reporters, and told them that the BJP had failed to understand Delhi’s pulse and lost. Once again, reporters tried to get him to apportion blame. Sticking to his stance, Upadhyay took all responsibility for the loss. “But was Kiran Bedi a mistake?” asked an enterprising reporter. Upadhyay did not deny the claim, but declined to comment.
A longstanding member of the BJP and of the RSS, Upadhyay said he hadn’t spoken to Shah since the results had trickled in, as Shah was busy with his son’s wedding in Ahmedabad. A few journalists again asked Upadhyay how he could be certain that this was not an anti-Modi vote since the BJP had been heavily dependent on the Modi brand during the campaign and had asked voters to vote for his development agenda. As if on cue, they were served tea in disposable cups that were tagged, “NaMo Chai” with Modi’s picture on them.
By now, the atmosphere in the room had become fairly jovial. Commenting on the fact that Upadhyay was now smiling, one of the reporters said that at least he was “putting up a strong face, there was nobody to be seen in the Congress office.”
The dissatisfaction among the cadre over the absence of the BJP leaders was hard to miss. Outside, another bunch of men who claimed to have worked for the party during the election were discussing the absence of any known BJP minister or representative from the central leadership at the office. “Ashwaasan ke liye bhi ek bhi bada neta nahi hai. Koi toh ho” (Not a single senior leader bothered to come for even consolation. Someone should have been there).