he resounding victory Aam Aadmi Party has registered by winning 60 of the 70 assembly seats in Delhi has enabled chief minister of the capital state Arvind Kejriwal to not only pull off an electoral hat-trick but also to answer the question, ‘Modi vs who?’. That of course would depend on whether the rest of the Opposition would unite under one umbrella, however remote a prospect that may be. The Delhi election, undoubtedly, was projected as a three-dimensional battle whose final results show that the real contest was between AAP and the BJP because in some seats the margin of victory was slender. This election in significant in many ways. This was the first time the ruling party contested polls based on performance in addressing local issues. But the BJP laid less emphasis on local issues and more on national issues such as CAA, Article 370, aggressive nationalism. The party also indulged in vicious propaganda.
With high per capita GDP and income, Delhi ranks second only to Goa among all 33 states and Union Territories. Some experts, therefore, argue that development could not be an election plank in Delhi Assembly polls; But AAP’s success proves otherwise. The urban metropolitan ambience of Delhi often leads one to assume caste is irrelevant in assembly elections. But compared with other Hindi heartland states, privileged castes constitute about 42 per cent of Delhi’s population and they have been the support base for BJP. The Congress depended on Dalits (17 per cent) and Muslims (14 per cent), who have all now shifted allegiance to AAP. Just as the assembly polls of 2015, The AAP victory this time, too, despite the slightly reduced margin, shows the party has transcended caste barriers. While the BJP has retained its sway on the upper caste vote-base, AAP has taken over the base of Congress.
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, predicted a comfortable majority for Kejriwal-led AAP. CVoter predicted 49 to 63 seats for AAP, while it gave 5 to 19 seats for BJP. India Today’s exit poll predicted a repeat of AAP’s 2015 performance, giving it up to 68 seats. Times Now-Ipsos predicted 47 seats for AAP in the 70-seat Assembly, and gave BJP combine 23 seats. Overall the projections proved correct, especially with respect to AAP.
The AAP victory now proves that voters across Delhi and the country are showing distinct preferences at national and local elections. The same was seen in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. AAP’s good governance plank has worked in Delhi
AAP had high stakes at the elections. Having secured 67 of 70 seats in 2015, the assembly election this time was also a matter of prestige for AAP, because Delhi is the only state where the party is in power. Kejriwal made good governance his poll plank. The achievements the party highlighted included free water, cheap electricity, retention of fees in private schools, improved infrastructure in government schools, improvement in imparting education, better-managed government hospitals and free ride for women in DTC buses. Kejriwal while canvassing votes asked people to vote for his party only if they were convinced his government had worked for their welfare in its five-year tenure.
Interestingly, the BJP had won all seven Lok Sabha seats in the May 2019 election; the vote share of AAP in that election stood third, even behind the Congress. The AAP victory now proves that voters across Delhi and the country are showing distinct preferences at national and local elections. The same was seen in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. AAP’s good governance plank has worked in Delhi. Kejriwal can take credit for defying Modi in 2015 and 2020. Kejriwal has also improved his campaigning style. This time he focused solely on his government’s performance.
The stakes were high for the BJP at this assembly election as they failed to make a comeback in the national capital since 1998. The BJP was clever enough to pass the buck when it failed in 2013 and 2015 to poor choice of CM candidates; This time, though, the party didn’t repeat that mistake and put its best foot forward and proclaimed PM Modi as its face for Delhi election. They hoped pitting the PM against Kejriwal would dwarf AAP’s development plank. But Modi magic did not work for the BJP.
About a fortnight to election, campaigning in Delhi was proceeding positively indicating that AAP was set for a clear win in Delhi. The BJP had little to offer except harping on national issues. Seeing that their campaign was not evoking the desired response, the BJP brought changed electoral discourse by focusing on Shaheen Bagh. It gave a communal tinge to the campaign. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, reports said, exhorted the voters to press the EVM button so hard that the current would be felt at Shaheen Bagh. Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur added fuel to fire. He exhorted crowds to complete the second line of his slogan ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko’, and the crowds replied, ‘Goli maro saalon ko’. 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 BJP campaign managers hoped to reap electoral fortunes from the campaign but were disappointed. Nevertheless, the party did manage to improve its tally of seats marginally.
There are takeaways for all parties in the aftermath of Delhi assembly election. The AAP experiment of focusing on local issues and good governance has paid dividends; But the party must deliver on its ten ‘guarantees’ in the years to come if it wants to remain relevant. BJP has to reinvent its political strategy for assembly elections because nationalism and national issues should not get greater focus than local issues always. Congress also needs to reinvent itself by focusing on its organisational and leadership issues if it is serious about remaining relevant in national politics.
The writer is Executive Editor, News24. Views expressed are the writer’s own.