The resounding victory registered by AAP under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal by securing 62 seats in the 70-seat Assembly of Delhi has enabled Kejriwal to do not only an electoral hattrick but also answer the tricky question of Modi vs Who to some extent, provided rest of the Opposition gets united under one umbrella and that however, seems a remote prospect under current circumstances. Undoubtedly, Delhi assembly polls were projected to be a three-dimensional political battle; nevertheless, the final results show that the real contest was between the Aam Adami Party (AAP) and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) because in some seats the margin of victory has been slender. This election is significant in many ways. In the first place, it is for the first time that the ruling party contested the polls on local issues by taking its report card of past performance calling upon the electorate to vote them back to power if were satisfied with its performance or not to vote for them. On the other hand, the rival BJP laid less emphasis on local issues and emphasized on national issues like CAA, Article 370, aggressive nationalism and indulgence in vicious propaganda.
Higher rate of per capita GDP and per capita income of Delhi makes it rank second only after Goa among all 33 states and Union Territories of India, making some experts to argue that development could not be an election plank in Delhi Assembly polls; however, the resounding success of the AAP has proved that development has gained salience over so-called national issues pioneered by the BJP. Urban metropolitan ambience of Delhi often leads to the assumption about politics in Delhi that caste is an irrelevant issue in local assembly elections. Going by past elections of Delhi assembly, some experts have pointed out that in the assembly elections, the BJP and AAP, and earlier BJP and Congress had different social coalitions. As compared to other Hindi heartland states, privileged castes constitute a larger chunk of Delhi’s population, roughly about 42 per cent and this segment has been a support base for the BJP. The Congress had been dependent on Dalits (17 per cent) and the Muslims (14 per cent); and these segments have now shifted in favour of the AAP. Like 2015 assembly polls, the resounding victory recorded by the AAP this time also, albeit with slight reduced margin, shows that the party has transcended the caste barriers. While BJP has retained its electoral sway over the upper caste vote-base, the AAP has taken over much of the erstwhile Congress base among Dalits, Muslims, Jat and the OBCs.
At least six exit polls, including those by CVoter, Times Now-Ipsos, India Today-Axis My India, Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat, Neta-NewsX and TV9 Bharatvarsh-Cicero, had predicted a comfortable majority for the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP in the Delhi assembly elections. CVoter had predicted a seat share in the range of 49 to 63 seats for AAP, while it had given just 5 to 19 seats to the BJP. India Today’s exit poll had predicted a repeated of AAP’s 2015 performance, giving it up to 68 seats. Times Now-Ipsos had predicted 47 seats for AAP in the 70-seat Assembly, while BJP+ had been given 23 seats. Viewed in a broad spectrum, the projections pronounced by the exit polls on the whole have proved correct with slight adjustment, especially in respect of AAP.
Kejriwal-led AAP had very high stakes in these elections because having secured 67 seats in 70-seat Delhi assembly in 2015, this election had become very prestigious for its survival because Delhi is the only state where it has been in power. Good governance was the major plank of Kejriwal. Free water, cheaper electricity, no hike in fees in private schools and improved infrastructure in Delhi government schools along with improvement in imparting education as well as better-managed government hospitals, free ride for women in DTC buses have been major governance measures undertaken by Kejriwal government and in his public addresses during the election campaign Kejriwal repeatedly asked the electorate to vote for the AAP only if they were convinced that his government had worked for them in the last five years.
Interestingly, in the May 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP had won all seven Lok Sabha seats from Delhi and AAP failed to make any mark; rather in voting percentage it ranked third after Congress. However, AAP victory in this assembly election proves that voters across Delhi and across the country have demonstrated different preferences in national and local elections. Similar trends could be discerned in assembly polls in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. AAP’s good governance plank has worked with the Delhi electorate and has helped the party to do a hattrick. Kejriwal can take the credit of defying Modi wave in 2015 and again in 2020. Apart from the governance plank, Kejriwal has also improved on his campaigning style. This time, instead of being personal in his attacks on Prime Minister Modi, as he did in the past, Kejriwal focused on the performance of his government.
Having failed to make a comeback in Delhi since 1998, stakes for the BJP in this assembly election were very high. Like 2014 Lok Sabha election, Delhi was in the grip of strong Modi wave in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Having won all the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi in both 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had, however, failed to wrest power in 2013 and 2015 Delhi assembly elections both held when Modi wave was generating groundswell in favour of the BJP. The BJP was clever enough to pass on its buck of failure in 2013 and 2015 to party’s chief ministerial candidates; nevertheless, this time party didn’t repeat the past mistake and put its best foot forward by proclaiming that PM Modi was its face for Delhi election thereby pitting him against Kejriwal with the hope that Modi wave would dwarf AAP’s development plank. As the outcome shows, Modi magic has not worked for the BJP.
Almost a fortnight prior to the polling date, election campaigning in Delhi was going on a positive note indicating that AAP was set for a clear win in Delhi. In view of AAP’s good governance plank the BJP had little to offer except harping on national issues. Seeing their electoral plank evoking not desired response from the voters, the BJP brought in change in the electoral discourse by focusing on ‘Shaheen Bagh’ by giving it a communal tinge to polarize the situation. As per media reports, Union Home Minister and President of the BJP Amit Shah exhorted the voters to press the EVM button so hard that the current would be felt by Shaheen Bagh. Adding fuel to fire, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur exhorted crowds to complete the second line of his slogan Desh ke gaddaron ko, with the crowd adding, Goli maro saalon ko. Another BJP Delhi leader went a step further, threatening there could be rape for women after the election. At his election rallies in Delhi, chief minister of UP Yogi Aditya Nath pushed ahead with the “goli” theme, targeting Kejriwal of ‘supplying biryani to Shaheen Bagh’! The BJP played on Hindu apprehensions by projecting Shaheen Bagh as an assertion by Muslims, linking it to the ‘tukde-tukde gang’ and to Pakistan.
The Congress has ruled Delhi for one-and-a-half decade under the leadership of late Smt. Sheila Dixit and it has drawn a blank in 2015 and 2020 assembly polls in Delhi and that is ironic for the Oldest Party. Organizational structure of the party is in tatters in Delhi. Media reports indicate that the district units of the party had been fighting openly till recently. Some experts attribute dismal performance of Congress to its failure to enter into alliance with AAP as well. Congress has capable leadership at Delhi level and what it needs is to invigorate its workers and strengthen its organizational structure to regain its confidence of the masses.
There are take-aways for all in the aftermath of this assembly election. AAP experiment of focusing on local issues and good governance has paid good dividends and the party leadership has to deliver on its ten promises termed as guarantees in the years to come if it wants to remain relevant in national politics. AAP’s success has also helped the party to be looked upon as a role model for other regional satraps.
BJP has to reinvent its political strategy for assembly elections because over emphasis on nationalism and national issues at the expense of local issues cannot hold waters all the time. Congress also needs to reinvent itself by focusing on its organizational and leadership issues if it is serous enough to remain relevant in national politics.