COLUMN: BJP’s Naye Chehre in MCD polls: A Bold Experiment

Written by: Pranav Gupta & Nitin Mehta
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"Naye Chehre, Nayee Urja, Nayee Udaan, Dilli Mange KamalNishan" -- The Bharatiya Janata Party's slogan for the upcoming MCD election in Delhi, seen on posters and banners across the city, focusses on the party's decision of not re-nominating any sitting councillor (or their immediate family members). It seems odd when BJP leaders boast about this decision while they simultaneously list out the work done by the MCD over the last decade for the city.

COLUMN: BJP’s Naye Chehre in MCD Polls: A Bold Experiment

Naturally, leaders from opposition parties are asking -- why drop incumbent councillors if the MCD has done so well under the BJP? Numerous questions around this strategy remain unanswered. Will this decision spoil the BJP's chances of retaining control over three Municipal corporations due to internal resentment and rebellion? Or will it allow the party to successfully counter 10 years of anti-incumbency?

On most occasions, parties refrain from denying tickets to incumbent legislators. Despite, high incumbent turnover rate, most incumbents are re-nominated by their respective parties. Parties are deterred by threats of rebellion as incumbents could easily cross over to other parties or play the role of a spoiler by contesting independently.

Absence of organisational unity can be detrimental to the electoral prospects of a party. Unless, an incumbent is perceived to be a complete non-performer by the electorate, it is not easy for parties to deny tickets to incumbent legislators. In the Municipal elections, as women reservation is applicable on a rotational basis, most parties don't hesitate from giving tickets to female relatives of sitting councillors.

Thus, it is evident that the BJP has played a big gamble by denying tickets to its sitting councillors. All three corporations would witness a multi-cornered contest and a few seats could prove to be thedifference between holding the mayor's position.

What may have prompted the BJP to take this decision? There is little doubt that the BJP would be facing severe double anti-incumbency in many wards across the city. In many wards, there are leaders who have been councillors for the last 10 years. None of the three corporations have performed adequately well for the party to be confident about winning the election based on the performance.

The AAP may be contesting the MCD election for the first time, but it is the principal force in Delhi politics presently. In this scenario, the BJP wouldn't have remained in contest by relying solely on its own performance. Also, fighting a municipal election bycompletely banking on high popularity and satisfaction ratings of the Prime Minister and his government would not have been an ideal call since poor showing then would have given a lot of ammunition to the opposition parties in state elections in coming months.

By denying tickets to sitting councillors, the BJP seems to be consciously trying to position itself as the challenger rather than the incumbent in the election. In our opinion, the verdict of the election hinges on whether the BJP can position itself as the challenger in the minds of the voters. Almost paradoxically, despite being the incumbent the BJP is fighting the election with a promise of change from the status quo. The party seems to be hoping that voters would ignore 'mistakes' of the past and instill confidence in the fresh faces.

If the Delhi experiment turns out to be successful, would the BJP try it in other states? In most elections till 2019, the BJP would be the incumbent party. The party would be wary of the fact that high anti-incumbency against its legislators could hamper its electoral prospects. Hence, this experiment shouldalso be looked as a strategy through which the BJP would attempt to counter the anti-incumbency. In a nutshell, the MCD election results should be keenly awaited for more than one reason, as this may influence the BJP's ticket distribution strategy in the subsequent elections.

Pranav Gupta is an independent Researcher. Nitin Mehta is Managing Partner at Ranniti Consulting and Research.

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