Having failed to perform satisfactorily in the Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand elections, the BJP realizes that its rank and file will be hugely demoralized if it does not fare well in the forthcoming Delhi polls. It’s a must-win situation, therefore, for the party if only because a disappointing show will have an unfavourable impact for its prospects in the Bihar elections which are eight or nine months away. Moreover, a below par performance in Delhi will reflect poorly on the BJP’s sole winning card ~ Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image ~ since he, along with the Union home minister, Amit Shah, have been virtually the only campaigners in the absence of a chief ministerial face for the party.

Such a lacuna is all the more disadvantageous for the BJP since its main challenger, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), banks heavily on the “achievements” of its chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, in the fields of health and education, especially for the poor and the lower middle class. Since Kejriwal and his lieutenant, deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia, are effective communicators (unlike most of the representatives of the other major non-BJP party in the fray, the Congress), there is a perception that the AAP is the front-runner in the Union territory where the BJP last won an assembly election way back in 1993. The BJP’s supporters believe, therefore, that the party is fighting an uphill battle which explains the sharpness of the speeches of its campaigners.

The BJP has also latched on to anticitizenship law protesters in Shaheen Bagh, a Delhi locality, where several hundred Muslim women have been staging a sitin along with others, with a group of Sikhs providing free meals from their langar (kitchen) in accordance with a longstanding Sikh tradition. Although the women have claimed that their protests have nothing to do with the elections and the AAP has generally kept away from becoming involved in the demonstration, the BJP has made it a primary election issue. Its friends in the media have also attached to the Shaheen Bagh sit-in the name of a Muslim student of Jawaharlal Nehru University who is facing sedition charges for saying that Assam should be cut off from the rest of the country.

This projection of the protests as the handiwork of anti-nationals is evident from the incendiary speeches made by a Union minister and an M.P. who have been forbidden to speak for some time by the Election Commission. While the minister has called for “shooting” the “traitors”, the parliamentarian has cautioned everyone about the possibility of those behind the protests, viz. the Muslim men, entering homes to rape and kill. Earlier, another BJP apparatchik was reprimanded by the Commission for comparing the Delhi elections to an India-Pakistan cricket match, thereby suggesting that the electoral battle was between nationalists and anti-nationals who were mostly Muslims.

As is obvious, the BJP has resorted to playing the anti-minority card to mobilise its core group of Hindu supporters presumably because it believes itself to be on the back foot. However, there is a likelihood of this communal ploy backfiring in the wake of last Thursday’s incident when a young man appeared near the demonstrators in the vicinity of the Jamia Millia university, brandishing a gun and shouting “take your azadi (freedom)” before firing and injuring a Muslim student. It didn’t take long for commentators and critics of the BJP to link the act with the minister’s earlier exhortation to shoot traitors. Notwithstanding the BJP’s efforts to distance itself from the dastardly deed with Union home minister Amit Shah announcing that the culprit will not be spared, it doesn’t take much perspicacity to understand that the BJP may have to pay for the reckless act of a person who is a selftaught radical, according to the police.

As a result, the party’s weak position is likely to become even weaker. It remains to be seen whether there will be any lessening of the shrillness of the party’s diatribes against its opponents who are routinely branded as unpatriotic. But the BJP’s woes appear to have their roots in its pursuit of an agenda which militates, according to its critics, against the Constitution. While the student protesters are motivated by their youthful vigour and Left-liberal idealism, the Muslims,who have long seen themselves as targets of Rightwing animosity, seem to have decided that it is “now or never” if they have to oppose the BJP’s drive for their marginalization.

They clearly have no faith in the Prime Minister’s sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas pitch of development for all based on winning everyone’s trust. One reason why they do not believe in such assurances is their experience at the ground level where the inborn anti-Muslim anmus of the Hindtva votaries is all too evident, as a radical’s prompt response to the minister’s speech showed. The Delhi election outcome will reveal whether such radicalism is widespread or limited to the party faithful.

(The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman)