An important factor that may decide the Delhi election outcome, which the BJP may hate to admit, is the Congress’ performance. The grand old party can spoil the AAP’s plans, and, thereby, help the BJP.
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor Arvind Kejriwal has been all smiles since the Delhi assembly poll date was announced on January 6. Kejriwal’s reaction was in contrast to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is supervising the party’s campaign.
Kejriwal is confident that Delhi voters will make a distinction between the state and national elections and vote him back on the basis of what his government has done in the last five years.
Shah and other BJP leaders are counting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vote-pulling power, among other arsenal, to enact a repeat of the 2019 Lok Sabha poll performance when the party won all the seven seats from Delhi.
For the BJP, Modi remains its mascot who holds out a big promise on Delhi’s development with largesse from the central government. BJP managers do not mince words in saying that their hopes are on Modi who will take some sheen out of the AAP when he hits the campaign trail. This is notwithstanding the danger in this approach.
Modi’s image may suffer a further big dent in the event of the BJP failing to prevent the AAP from returning to power after losing government in Jharkhand. There is also a big gamble in the BJP hoping for voter sentiments to perk up in its favour on issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the revoking of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the triple talaq law and their associated fallout on the streets and campuses of the Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi.
The BJP is unmindful of the student unrest, which has been read by the Opposition and many of Modi’s critics as harbinger of an Indian version of the Arab Spring. An environment that adds to disenchantment among the youth over education, jobs and financial insecurity because of the economic slowdown won’t help the BJP’s campaigners. However, Kejriwal too has chosen to look askance on the student issues lest the BJP gains advantage.
On other hand, the BJP is being seen as unable to draw on lessons from Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.On his part, Kejriwal has shown to have undergone a political transition. His political attacks are no longer targeted at Modi, and, rather, limits himself to extol his government’s ‘achievements’. He no longer focuses on a negative campaign against his opponents.
With a huge advertisement budget and with all its concomitant good press, Kejriwal has shown that he is willing to overemphasise one’s achievements. One is reminded of how the BJP under the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost power in 2004 in spite of its ‘India Shining’ campaign.
Kejriwal’s confidence stems from good rating among voters who are beneficiaries of the schemes his government has rolled out: free and subsidised electricity and water supply, improved functioning of government schools, flagship ‘mohalla’ clinics and free treatment in hospitals. What goes in Kejriwal’s favour is also the fact that the BJP bears the burden of defending its poor performance in running the three municipal corporations under its control.
By giving ownership rights to residents in 1,731 unauthorised colonies in Delhi, the Modi-led central government has tried to overshadow the AAP. The AAP has countered by saying that ownership rights alone won’t regularise these colonies.
An important factor that may decide the outcome, which the BJP may hate to admit openly, is the Congress, which emerged second in the Lok Sabha polls. Will the Congress play spoil sport for the AAP or sink without trace?
The BJP’s hope is that the Congress eat into the AAP vote share in at least a dozen of the 70 constituencies. This would help the BJP inch closer to the half-way mark. This is because the AAP and the Congress are in the race for the same set of votes — the minorities and scheduled castes.
In the 2015 assembly elections, where the AAP won 67 seats, the Congress had collapsed as these votes decisively shifted in favour of Kejriwal. If one goes by the Congress’ performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the grand old party won 22.5 per cent votes as against the 14 per cent it won in 2014. The Congress’ success in neighbouring Haryana has given hopes to its ranks to cash in on the anti-AAP sentiments. It doesn’t help the Congress that it leaders lack unity.
Both Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former President Rahul Gandhi want senior and familiar faces such as JP Aggarwal, Ajay Maken and Arvind Singh Lovely to fill the vacuum left behind by the demise of Sheila Dikshit. The Congress’ campaign rest on Dikshit’s achievements when she was Chief Minister for 15 continuous years.
Desertions of influential leaders from the Congress to the AAP, such as Matia Mahal MLA Shoaib Iqbal, Chandini Chowk’s Parlad Singh Sawhney and Badarpur’s Ram Singh Netaji is a setback for the national party. Even former Congress MP Mahabal Mishra’s son Vinay has switched over to Kejriwal’s side.
BJP leaders are of the view that this shows that the AAP is not confident of its flock and needs deserters from the Congress to win. Never mind that the BJP itself has welcomed turncoats from the AAP such as Kapil Mishra who may be fielded against Kejriwal.
On January 14, the AAP announced its 70 candidates for the February 8 polls. Interestingly 15 sitting MLAs have been dropped from the list. It has to be seen how these dropped MLAs will react to the list. After the list was out, Badarpur MLA ND Sharma resigned from the party accusing it of ‘selling tickets’.
The electoral campaign is going to pick up from here, but expect the voters to send out the message: that more than grand promises of a better future, concrete deliveries is what matters.Shekhar Iyer is former Senior Associate Editor of Hindustan Times and Political Editor of Deccan Herald in New Delhi. Views are personal.Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.