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The Delhi election and the making of a Hindu voting bank

18 31 30

Last week, India's ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) faced a massive rebuff in the local legislative election in Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a relatively new and small political party, swept the polls, winning 62 seats and leaving only eight for the BJP in the 70-member Delhi assembly.

Delhi does not have the status of a full state and the election for its assembly used to be rather low-key until 2015 when the BJP made it a high-pitched affair. That year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself led its campaign but, despite deploying his huge party machinery, he faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the then-novice AAP, securing only 3 seats.

This year, the BJP's campaign in Delhi was led by Amit Shah, India's home minister considered to be Modi's right-hand man and close confidant, but he too was unable to lead the party to victory.

While some opposition-minded commentators welcomed the BJP's defeat in Delhi as a crack in its monopoly of power, what happened in this election cannot be celebrated.

The BJP's electoral defeat is not really a sign of its political weakness or the decline of its political project. To the contrary, the Delhi election demonstrated that, in fact, the ruling party has been successful in pushing its political opponents to the right and forcing them to play by its rules. It is also continuing to shape the Indian electorate, carving out of it a Hindu constituency that fully embraces its Hindu nationalist agenda.

As in previous election campaigns, in Delhi, the BJP's leadership focused its efforts on inciting anti-Muslim sentiment to rally the Hindu vote. In fact, the party tried to turn the election into an anti-Muslim vote, using recent Muslim protests to scare its constituency.

In late January, Shah exhorted constituents to "press the button [of the electronic voting machine] …with such anger that the current reaches Shaheen........

© Al Jazeera