In 2009, a candidate of the Samajwadi Party, big rival of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In 2016, the chief of a state unit of the BJP. For actor-singer-director (primarily in Bhojpuri) Manoj Tiwari, it is the biggest role yet. He has just been appointed chief of the BJP’s Delhi unit.
He might bring a breath of fresh air. After all, how many current BJP leaders of Delhi can belt out a soulful Bhojpurirendering of Jiya ho Bihar ke lala (long live the son of Bihar)? Harsh Vardhan, sore after he lost his job as Union health minister and was moved to science & technology, is on the verge of losing all interest in Delhi. After projecting Kiran Bedi as chief ministerial candidate and losing all elections thereafter, the BJP is resorting to the lowest common denominator of politics — caste and regional identity. Tiwari is expected to woo and win the poorvanchali (east UP/Bihar) vote for the BJP, which clearly believes that the people who did not vote for them in Bihar villages might vote for them in urban Delhi.
Tiwari did well for himself in the previous Lok Sabha election. He joined the BJP in 2013 and won the North East Delhi constituency in 2014 by a margin of 140,000 votes, a swing to the party of 11 per cent. The situation was different in 2015, when the city legislative Assembly election was held. Of 10 seats in his Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP won one. The same constituency had put five BJP MLAs out of 10 in the Assembly in the 2013 election.
The quintessential migrant Bihari and UP wallah living and working in Delhi is not a small force – it numbers between three and four million. It was in the 2007 polls to the then (unified) Municipal Corporation of Delhi that the BJP realised the power of poorvanchalis for the first time. The party fielded 25 of them and registered a landslide victory. It was a lesson for all political parties in the national capital. In the next parliamentary election, the Congress fielded poorvanchali leader Mahabal Mishra, who won from West Delhi, a seat with as many poorvanchalis as Punjabis. Next came the Aam Aadmi Party which also fielded and won as many as 10 poorvanchalis. Dilip Pandey, a poorvanchali was made its Delhi convenor, Bandana Kumari was selected as deputy speaker, Kapil Mishra and Gopal Rai were appointed ministers in Arvind Kejriwal’s cabinet. It is another matter that some of them have since been shifted.
Tiwari has been wooing the poorvanchali voter in Delhi for almost a year. A ‘Poorvanchal youth conference’ was an effort to connect with younger people from the region. The argument was that after the assembly elections in 2015, around 50,000 first-time poorvanchali voters would be added to Delhi’s electoral rolls. The BJP was quick to latch on to this number and project a face that might draw in these voters.
Whether Tiwari will be accepted by the other communities in Delhi is another matter. Even harder to guess is the effect his appointment will have on AAP voters. However, the BJP’s Delhi operations will now become more musical and easier on the ears.