By Kushal Jeena
With free water, cheaper electricity, no hike in school fees and better management of health facilities as its main election plank, the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Admi Party seems to return to power in the national capital of Delhi that goes to polls on February 8.
Besides, a triangular contest among three major players, the AAP, Congress and BJP has placed Kejriwal in an advantageous position because like previous occasions a split of votes helps him emerge as a clear winner. However, he is unlikely to repeat his previous performance of winning 67 of the 70 seats in Delhi assembly as there exist two factors; anti-incumbency and minority voters who might switch over to Congress in the wake of UPA government’s insistence on implementing new citizenship amendment act that Parliament passed in December last year.
Meanwhile various surveys that have appeared so far in the media have indicated that Kejriwal is bringing his party back to power for the second consecutive term, but with reduced strength in Delhi assembly. If the AAP’s performance in the Lok Sabha election is taken into account, the target of crossing previous tally looks extremely ambitious. But then voters across India have shown different preferences in national and local elections. If Kejriwal’s good governance plank works with the voters, the AAP may come back to power in spite of BJP’s claim that popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi among core BJP voters continues to hold grounds.
The opponents of Kejriwal particularly the Congress have been accusing him of having a clandestine understanding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi because he seems wary of the Modi wave and has tried not to target the prime minister in person. In many elections in the past, when Modi was made the subject of personal target, he has turned the scale in his favour. The BJP, though, is trying to project Delhi assembly election as a battle between PM Modi and CM Kejriwal, the AAP leadership including the chief minister has stayed away from launching personal attacks on Modi. The deliberate silent on the part of Kejriwal on contentious issues like CAA, NRC and NPR is also indicative of a discreet understanding between Modi and Delhi’s chief minister.
During 2019 Lok Sabha election, Delhi was reeling under a strong Modi wave and as a result party swept all the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi. However, it failed to capture power in 2013 and 2015 Delhi assembly elections even as both held when Modi’s popularity was at its peak. In 2013, Modi as Gujarat chief minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate had addressed a series of election rallies in Delhi. Still, the party fell short of majority after results came in and decided to take high moral ground unlike recent examples seen in Goa, Karnataka, Haryana and Maharashtra and did not stake claim to form government. Kejriwal formed government in 2013 for 49 days.
In 2015, the BJP could win only three seats while the Congress was reduced to zero. On both occasions, the BJP had contested Delhi assembly election with a declared chief ministerial candidate Harsh Vardhan in 2013 and Kiran Bedi in 2015. The losses that BJP suffered in 2013 and 2015 were promptly tagged to Harsh Vardhan and Kiran Bedi. This time, the BJP has put its best foot forward by proclaiming that PM Modi is their face for Delhi election pitting him virtually against Kejriwal. The BJP hopes that Modi ‘magic’ will eclipse Kejriwal’s charisma in Delhi.
The Congress is in tatters in Delhi. The district units of the party had been engaged in an open fight till recently. The party failed to enter into an alliance with the AAP that has wider support on the ground. The deal failed during the Lok Sabha election, which the AAP leadership suspected was main reason behind BJP’s cakewalk and had approached Rahul Gandhi, then Congress president for an electoral alliance.
The Congress’s performance in Delhi in the Lok Sabha election surprised even some within the party leadership as the party finished second in five of seven constituencies pushing the AAP to distant third. But recent surveys show that people have clear preferences for Delhi Assembly election.
Analysts say Congress is expected to do well in areas where anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests were intense. The visits by Congress leaders to protesters’ venues have generated lot of goodwill for the Congress particularly among Muslim voters, who are dominating voters in five constituencies and may influence electoral outcome on some other seats. If the Congress actually makes inroads in such areas and manages to get some hold back in constituencies dominated by slums and unauthorised colonies, there may be a surprise in store in the upcoming Delhi assembly election.
Delhi’s electorates are sharply divided among certain categories Purvanchalis, Punjabis, Muslims, upper caste-baniya combine and slums. They have traditionally been voters to one party or the other. The AAP broke this pattern in 2015. The Congress suffered biggest casualty during Kejriwal’s sudden rise in Delhi. While the BJP held on to its vote bank with 32 per cent vote share, the Congress suffered a loss of 15 per cent over 2013 election. The AAP got over 54 per cent.
With Manoj Tiwari, a purvanchali at the helm of party’s affairs in the national capital, the BJP is banking on a swing in Purvanchali vote bank, division among Punjabis and steadfast hold on upper caste-baniya combine. The Congress is banking on votes of slum dwellers, return of Purvanchalis and support of Muslim electorates. The AAP argues that polarisation and caste-wise division of votes will not happen this time also and there is a visible trend of repetition of 2015 in its favour.
The development is hardly an issue for the residents of Delhi because the city has a huge majority of people who have roots in other states and rest of India is not as developed as Delhi. This makes development a less appealing election issue in Delhi polls. This is also a major factor behind Kejriwal’s grand success as he promised to keep electricity cheaper in Delhi. Availability of electricity is not a concern for an average Delhi voter unlike neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Sheila Dikshit was at the receiving end just before 2013 Delhi election as there were talks about hike in power tariff in Delhi.
Water supply has been a concern in Delhi. But Kejriwal’s promise in 2015 and subsequent implementation of almost-free water in the past five years has made this issue irrelevant till a voter is not shocked by reports of climate change and impending water crisis all over the world including Delhi. Traffic jam and pollution are two major concerns for residents of Delhi. But the fact that Delhi roads are wider than those in other cities puts the blame back on people who continue to buy cars without thinking about the consequences. There seems hardly any buyer for promise that Delhi BJP chief has made that his party if voted to power will solve pollution problem of the city in two years.
A high-stakes triangular contest among AAP, BJP and Congress, elections for the 70-member Delhi assembly will be held on February 8. The counting of votes will take place on February 11. The results will be seen as a verdict on recent incidents that have seen BJP and its opponents clash over allegations of “majoritarianism” and “intolerance” with regard to violence on campuses and legislations like the Citizenship Amendment Act.