A month before the polls, internal surveys painted a rosy picture for AAP, with the BJP losing "even its core base". However, within a month, things have changed
Almost a month before Delhi was to go to polls— scheduled for February 8— the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on January 5 witnessed violence after masked miscreants entered the campus and beat up students, who were reportedly protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC).
This was the second such instance of violence on a university campus in the national capital. The first came on December 15, when, after anti-CAA protests turned violent in Delhi, police entered Jamia Millia Islamia campus and reportedly fired tear-gas and clashed with protesters inside the campus.
While both these instances were met with criticism against the Delhi police, and, after the JNU violence, senior Congress leaders— including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra— visited the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where injured students were admitted, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was conspicuous by his absence. There was a reason for that, say Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders.
"After the violence at Jamia particularly, Kejriwal had called his advisors to seek an opinion on whether he should visit the campus. Everyone said no," a source in AAP said. "That visit would have provided the BJP with a link to connect the Delhi polls to national issues, particularly the CAA and NRC stir," the source said, adding that the BJP was "itching" for that to happen.
Even as he received criticism on social media sites for his absence, Kejriwal stuck to his guns. AAP leaders, however, said that was the first hurdle— the protests at Shaheen Bagh, which the BJP has made a poll issue, is the second.
The source in AAP said a month before the polls, internal surveys painted a rosy picture for AAP, with the BJP losing "even its core base". However, within a month, things have changed.
"It's not a piece of cake anymore," another AAP functionary admitted, adding that the BJP's reference to Shaheen Bagh has polarised voters. BJP's own internal surveys seem to be backing this claim, with the protests being cited as one of the reasons for the party's upswing in seat predictions.
Shaheen Bagh, where protests against the contentious CAA have been on for more than a month, has effectively become the central point of the election, with senior BJP leaders— including Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath— aiming barbs at the protesters.
Some, like Union Minister Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Parvesh Verma, have also made controversial remarks, with the latter stating that lakhs of anti-CAA protesters in Shaheen Bagh could enter homes to kill and rape women. The former had egged on the crowd at a rally to raise an incendiary slogan— "shoot the traitors"— after he lashed out at anti-CAA protesters.
Days after Thakur's remarks, three incidents of firing, near or around Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, have been reported. While AAP leaders have said that the BJP is trying to polarise voters, it is confident that Kejriwal will come back for a second term, "only on the back of the development work done by the party".With battle lines drawn, both the BJP and AAP leaders have said that the results of the Delhi Assembly polls will be a litmus test for them: for the AAP, according to its leaders, it will be a test of its claim of having done developmental work; for the BJP, it will indicate— for the first time electorally— the effect of the anti-CAA stir.