India’s ruling party receives a drubbing in Delhi

Feb 12, 2020

IN MAY Narendra Modi won a triumphant second term as India’s prime minister, with a thumping majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did especially well in Delhi. It grabbed all seven of the National Capital Territory’s parliamentary seats. Yet just nine months later, in elections to the territory’s assembly on February 11th, the BJP won a scant eight out of its 70 seats.

This drubbing may be dismissed as a small dent in the Modi juggernaut. Delhi’s 20m people are less than 2% of India’s population, and the party that thrashed the BJP is politically irrelevant beyond the city limits. Even so, the vote represented an early plebiscite, in a part of the country where the BJP has deep roots, on the divisive social policies Mr Modi has adopted in his second term, as well as on his handling of an increasingly shaky economy. It also represented a test for a new, more aggressive style of campaigning. At the hustings the BJP dropped any pretence of inclusivity, engaging instead in one of the loudest and ugliest displays of sectarian bigotry ever witnessed in Indian politics.

There are two obvious explanations for the party’s slide. The one Mr Modi might prefer is that Delhi’s voters draw an unusually stark distinction between national and local elections. There...

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