As the battle for Delhi heats up, the Election Commission (EC) announced February 7 as the day of voting and February 11 as the day of counting. Setting up a heated battle between the BJP and the ruling AAP led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. For a total of 70 seats up for grabs, the Congress too is in the fray, but is playing catch up. Giving a lay of the land for the Delhi elections, the Hindustan Times
“It is this fundamentally bipolar but possibly triangular battle, through the web of local and national issues, in a contest which will assume the contours of a Kejriwal versus Modi frame, that Delhi’s voters will exercise their choice next month. The results will have national significance
For the parties to mobilise voters, some of the basic issues that have come up in the past few years such as water & electricity, transportation and reducing pollution are key. As being one of the most polluted cities in the country and in the world, the AAP will have its task cut out. Delhi is also a place which is far ahead in terms of public transportation which the country’s largest metro network; so, development isn’t necessarily a winning platform, perhaps improvement and sustainability could be it.
The AAP, in the previous 2015 assembly elections in Delhi, won a very comfortable victory – 67 of the 70 available seats, with the BJP getting the remaining three. Prior to that in 2013, the party was very much finding its footing but nevertheless won 28 seats; coming in the wake of a vast anti-corruption movement against the previous government.
Last month, the ruling AAP gave out its report card which stated that the party had fulfilled promises in the sectors of education, healthcare etc to the people of Delhi after a historic win in 2015. Speaking at the time, Kejriwal said in part, “I can say with assurance, that post-independence, this is the most honest government in the country. There were all sorts of agencies which were probing us but we have got a clean chit from all of them”. Ashuthosh, a Delhi-based journalist, in a column
for NDTV, writes on Arvind Kejriwal’s role in the upcoming elections –
“Arvind Kejriwal is a tough nut to crack for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. There is no denying the fact that Kejriwal is not the same brand as five years ago.He was seen as a man who had entered politics not to do politics but to change politics. He is still trusted by the public - but now as a politician.Kejriwal might not sway voters at the pan-India level but he is still No. 1 in Delhi
One point in Ashutosh’s column is the difference in voting patterns at the state and national levels. The BJP, after certain recent results knows this all to well. With the AAP, the reverse is true, as Kejriwal’s popularity is known in Delhi, nationally, it hasn’t bloomed. In the assemble elections in Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the party didn’t crack 1% voter share. Parliamentary elections in Delhi went the same way with the party coming in third behind the Congress. The Hindu editorial
states the election will ultimately be a referendum on the AAP –
“The AAP will hope that the Assembly polls are a referendum on its government’s work. The Aam Aadmi Party, which graduated from a social movement to a political party less than a decade ago, will now seek to stand on its governance record. The AAP’s incoherence on questions related to ideology was a drawback then, and that is the reason why it will seek to turn the polls into a referendum on its tenure
For the BJP, Delhi hasn’t been fertile ground. For two decades, the party hasn’t been in power in the national capital and is betting on hopes for a comeback. With recent losses in state elections in Jharkhand Haryana and Maharashtra, the BJP’s strategy of going local will be key if they are to counter the AAP’s narrative of delivering on local policies and governance. In the previous two elections in 2015 and 2013, the party won 3 and 31 seats respectively.
The party, over the past six months has been at the centre of controversies. The scrapping of special status to Kashmir and its split resulted in great chaos in the state and accusations of undemocratic tactics in helping them stifle opposition. More recently, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) hasn’t garnered national attention and widespread outrage with daily protests. Pranav Jain, in a column
for The Quint, writes on the mistakes the BJP is making which could hand AAP another victory –
“The BJP’s record in running Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is blighted by apathy and inefficiency. By making personal attacks on Kejriwal, BJP is making the same fatal mistake that Congress made with PM Modi - personal attacks on a person who is all too happy to claim martyrdom and spin it into something politically advantageous
With the national issues taking centre stage, the BJP, while attacking Kejriwal personally might not work is because, he himself has kept much of his rhetoric local; pointing out the central government’s failure on safety of women, pollution etc. He hasn’t taken any overt positions on the current national issues. The popularity of Modi on a national level may not translate and a clash of personalities isn’t what this particular election may come down to. The Times of India editorial
speaks to this balancing act that the BJP will need to do –
“BJP will have to weigh carefully the utility of anchoring its campaign around nationalism. If Delhi’s voters are in the mood to talk about local issues like Jharkhand recently, the strategy could backfire.Modi would be hard-pressed to talk about local issues with the felicity that Kejriwal can muster in tom-tomming his doorstep delivery of rations, power subsidies, mohalla clinics and free bus transport for women
The party, in more ways than one has been on the back foot since its loss in last years Lok Sabha elections. Their search for a new national leader and questions on the role of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi continue. A few state elections results did give them something to celebrate, even if it was just for not having the BJP in power.
Ahead of the elections, the party formed six committees with Kirti Azad the chair of the 156-member campaign committee. In 2015, the Congress didn’t win a single seat. It was the culmination of a downward trend for the party in a place where they had great success in elections and governance, once led by the late Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.
The hope for the Congress is to make in-roads with those disillusioned with the AAP and the BJP. With strong anti-CAB protests in the national capital, the Congress would do well to capitalise on the anti-BJP fervour and call out Kejriwal for his non-aggression on national issues.Overall, the road for the Congress here is tough, the best they can possibly hope for is to make a dent from which to build on.
More columns by Varun Sukumar