New Delhi: The National Capital of the country, New Delhi is going to witness a three-cornered contest with BJP, Congress and AAP trying to lure the voters in their favour. The state becomes important for all the parties. The BJP which lost Jharkhand and Maharashtra is desperate to win in Delhi before it faces the electorate in the crucial elections in Bihar and West Bengal that follow later. The Congress which saw a sort of revival in the Assembly elections in the three states that went to poll since 2019 Lok Sabha elections is keen on wrestling Delhi from AAP. The party is enthused by the fact that it stood second in vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll dismissing AAP to the third position. The AAP hopes to retain the power riding on its popular rule.
Nation-State Poll Paradox
Like the other Assembly elections held before and after 2019 Lok Sabha polls (Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh), Delhi too presents a significant paradox in voting patterns between Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
In fact, if the saffron brigade can repeat its 2019 Lok Sabha voting tally, it can easily trounce Arvind Kejriwal to win the Assembly elections. In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP polled a massive 56.6 percent votes way ahead of its rivals. The Congress stood second with 22.5 percent voting share. The AAP remained at a poor third position with a mere 18 percent vote share. The poor electoral performance in the last Lok Sabha elections is giving sleepless nights to AAP. Not just standing at the third position, the revival of Congress is also a matter of grave concern for AAP. The history of electoral mandate in Delhi since the emergence of AAP reveals a pattern wherein gain for Congress is loss for Arvind Kejriwal’s party. But, the solace for AAP comes from its own performance compared with that of other parties in 2014 -15.
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won all the seven Lok Sabha seats by polling 46.47 percent votes. If one goes by this vote share, the BJP should have won 60 out of 70 Assembly seats. But, the people’s mandate in the Assembly elections held after 10 months in February 2015 was a pleasant surprise for AAP. The AAP won 67 out of 70 seats polling a whopping 54.3 percent votes. Thus, the electoral fortunes of parties have swung from one direction to the other in a span of less than a year.
BJP’s Poll Plank
The BJP is plagued by lack of local leadership to match the political stature and popularity of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The party is going to polls without the Chief Ministerial face. Thus, it is clear that the BJP is desperately dependent on the Modi magic to face the Delhi electorate. Nationalism, anti-Pakistan rhetoric, CAA, NPR, NRC debate would be the obvious poll planks of the saffron party in the national capital too. But, the BJP is nervous of the fact that these slogans failed to attract voters in Jharkhand as the opposition combine led by JMM, the regional outfit focused on local problems and livelihood issues.
Seeking Votes on Governance
AAP is very strong on this wicket. Kejriwal is seeking a second term essentially on his government’s performance. In fact, Kejriwal learnt lessons in electioneering and politics in the recent past. He is refusing to join the debate with Modi and his party on divisive national issues. He has kept his national political ambitions at bay at least for now and telling the voters that his focus is Delhi and Delhi alone.
Certainly, the Kejriwal government has earned national and international laurels for his performance in sectors like education and health that have a direct bearing on the well being of the people.
The study done by PRS Research Group reveals that the Kejriwal government spent 40 percent of its budget on education, health, water supply and sanitation. The education sector alone received as high as 26 percent of the state budget. That resulted in substantial improvement in the conditions in government schools. The Mohalla clinics earned the government good name. The poor and the marginalized spend a disproportionate share of their meagre incomes on privatized education and health care. Thus, the focus on governance especially human development brought substantial relief to the poor and the marginalized. Drinking water was supplied free of cost to households up to a minimum level. Women are given a free ride on public transport buses. This improved the mobility of women thereby substantially improving their income earning capabilities. The ration supplies through Public Distribution System were provided at the doorstep. This gives relief to working-class families as they had to forego a days’ work to buy ration. Besides this welfare agenda targeting poor and the marginalized, the Delhi government led Kejriwal also addressed the urban sensibilities like free wifi. It is now addressing the problem of congestion on roads. The AAP could create its vote banks among certain categories of population like working class, women, Purvanchalis, Jats and Uttarakhandis.
The earlier Congress government led by Sheila Dikshit incurred the wrath of the people for its controversial power reforms. The AAP government ensured a drastic reduction in power bills.
There is a significant difference in the way Kejriwal and AAP has been conducting their politics in the recent past. Kejriwal known for his anarchic politics is now steering clear of any controversies. He is maintaining a strategic distance from national issues that is inviting massive socio-political polarization. Thus, he is carefully avoiding the trap laid by the BJP. The AAP has almost transformed itself into a sort of regional party at least in Delhi. Despite his limited national political footprints, Kejriwal earlier used to make a lot of noise against BJP especially Modi. But, now he is more or less transformed into a regional satrap. The BJP is certainly annoyed with this changed character of AAP and its supremo.
Modi Vs Kejriwal
The nationwide experience in the saffron party clearly indicates that Modi magic fails to work in Assembly elections especially when he is pitched against strong regional leaders. This is the experience in states like Odisha, Telangana, etc. Though, Kejriwal does not represent any regional aspirations as such, but, his politics and governance model emerged as an alternative at least in a limited sense in the contemporary Indian democracy.
Thus, Delhi proves to be a hard nut to crack for the BJP. If the fight turns out into a referendum on Modi, the Congress vote can prove fatal for AAP as it would entail split in the anti-BJP vote. But, if the AAP succeeds in turning the Delhi elections into a sort of a referendum on Kejriwal’s rule, the vote split between BJP and the Congress in a three-cornered contest can prove to be beneficial for AAP.