Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi feel that Aam Aadmi Party is setting in a culture of muftkhori (freebies) which will prove costly in the long run for sustainable supplies. Besides, the subsidies are only targeted to the owners and not tenants, mostly immigrants from other states, because they do not constitute AAP’s core voter base.
Ever since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Mr Arvind Kejriwal, decisively swept the recent Delhi elections and won 62 of the 70 assembly seats, India’s political analysts have been assigning various reasons for that victory. Mr Kejriwal is back as chief minister of the state for the third term (his first term was a short one, lasting barely a couple of months; but his second tenure as chief minister lasted the full five years) and the post-result analyses in Indian media have attributed his comeback to multiple factors.
Some analysts have said Mr Kejriwal avoided confronting his main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs India’s central government, by largely keeping silent about the widespread protests in his state against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Those protests still continue and recently police action in some of the university campuses in Delhi turned grimly violent. By not forthrightly condemning or supporting the CAA or the protests against it, some analysts have argued, Mr Kejriwal managed to win over the Hindu majority voters who might have otherwise swung towards the BJP. Yet others have said Mr Kejriwal may have adopted a soft form of pro-Hindu campaigning—visits to temples; chanting of scriptures and slogans; and so on—to beat the BJP at its own game.
Some of these “analyses” could be over-wrought and, in some cases, even quite inaccurate. Delhi may be home to some of India’s richest people but the fact remains that almost half (49%) of Delhi’s 14.3 million voters live in the National Capital Territory’s (NCT) slums. These slums are home to Delhi’s poorest. Arguably, the value of a vote for poorer voters is far higher than that of richer, more privileged voters. And when nearly 63% of Delhi’s voters turned up to vote, it is reasonable to believe the larger proportion of them were poor voters rather than their richer counterparts.
So then why did Delhi’s citizens vote unequivocally for Mr Kejriwal and his AAP? An indication of the answer could lie on this very website that you are currently perusing. Shortly after the results were declared and AAP emerged as the unchallenged winner (compared to its 62 seats, its closest rivals fared terribly: the BJP got 8 and the Congress none), Lok Marg’s team sent out reporters to ask people why they voted for Mr Kejriwal’s party. Videos of those interviews may be watched on the site below
WATCH: Why Delhi Voted For Kejriwal
Even a casual perusal of those videos will show why people, particularly poor Delhiites living in the under-privileged colonies of the city-state, opted to click on the AAP’s broom symbol when they turned up to vote. The reasons are basic and pertain to fundamental needs of citizens. In his five-year term as chief minister, Mr Kejriwal and his government have been perceived to have delivered on their promises. The poor have benefited from reduced or highly subsidised supplies of electricity and water. Broken roads, and drainage systems have been repaired; CCTV surveillance and street-lighting in crime-prone areas have been installed; and education, meals, and teachers’ attendance at Delhi state’s government-run schools have improved.
These are just a few of the achievements of the AAP government in the past five years. In a state like Delhi—which is home to more than 20 million people—these are significant factors that determine how its citizens vote. What Mr Kejriwal’s pronouncements are on the CAA or the student protests at various Delhi universities and colleges may matter much less to the average Delhiite than the basic facilities that he or she expects their government to make accessible to them. And on that count, Mr Kejriwal’s return to power could be a people’s referendum on his past performance and their faith in his governance rather than the nuances of his utterances on recent political developments.
Delhi’s elections are unlike those of other bigger states because Delhi is a unique sort of a state. The Delhi government’s ambit doesn’t extend to law and order (Delhi’s police force reports to the central government). Likewise, the allocation or use of Delhi’s land falls under the central government; central Delhi’s New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) falls under the central government, while the three other municipal corporations report to the state’s Lieutenant-Governor who is an appointee of the central government.
This “special status” of the state of Delhi has meant that its elected government is constrained from acting as a full-fledged government. It has also led to frequent conflict and friction between the state’s government and the central government, factors that get particularly exacerbated when the parties in charge of the state and those in charge of the central government are rivals. Mr Kejriwal’s second tenure, since 2015, has been marked by such tensions. Yet, his achievements have not been insignificant. The people’s verdict that has won him a third term is clear proof of that.
Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party want Arvind Kejriwal to continue with his “good work” even though some of them are wary of the fact that Narendra Modi regime at the Centre may not be very cooperative.
While the majority of people LokMarg spoke to about Aam Aadmi Party’s landslide in Delhi Assembly elections lauded Arvind Kejriwal’s work, there were several who felt the victory belonged to freebies and not governance.
Ahead of Delhi Assembly polls, LokMarg puts a similar set of questions before AAP candidate Rohit Mehrauliya and Delhi BJP spokesperson Naveen Kumar for a ringside view of the bipolar contest.
Outsmarting the heavy-handed, powerful and well-funded electoral juggernaut engine of the BJP in the coming Delhi Elections, Arvind Kejriwal is playing by his game plan, frustrating Amit Shah’s well known strategy of communal and divisive politics. The Delhi Election is only a week away. The capital has eluded the BJP for 22 years. It is desperate to ‘own’ it.
Predictably, the saffron party’s campaign, led by home minister Amit Shah, has been aimed at polarising voters along religious lines. Its infamous and well tested strategy of dividing the opposition, isolating a minority and infusing a communal agenda in the election is being thrown at full force to wrest Delhi from Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party. But Kejriwal is avoiding a counter attack. The question on people’s mind is whether he will buckle.
ALSO READ: Why Kejriwal Still Has The Edge
The young Aam Admi Party is proving to be a tough and smart competitor. The Delhi chief minister has refused to take the BJP’s bait and deliberately steered clear of engaging with the saffron party on the ongoing Shaheen Bagh protest, a recurring theme in Shah’s speeches.
The home minister and the BJP’s army of campaigners has launched a vicious attack against the protest, describing it as an anti-national act. They have accused opposition parties of supporting the agitation who, they charge, are speaking Pakistan’s language. While inciting violence, the BJP has also gone as far as to describe Kejriwal as a terrorist.
Kejriwal’s AAP is, however, treading cautiously. Well aware that it is ill-equipped to counter the BJP’s brand of communal politics, the party is keeping the focus on its government’s achievements. Despite provocation from the other side, Kejriwal has not deviated from this carefully-crafted strategy of continuously highlighting how his government reduced power and water bills, improved the quality of education in government schools, set up mohalla clinics to provide health facilities in slums and introduced free bus travel for women.
ALSO READ: Amit Shah Is Playing With Fire
The subtle message of his “positive” campaign is that good governance benefits all sections of society and is not aimed at appeasing any one caste or community. On its part, the BJP has attempted to discredit Kejriwal for not delivering on his promises by pointing to the poor conditions in schools and the non-functioning mohalla clinics. But this has not cut much ice with the people. The underclass is firmly with the AAP. However, it is not clear if the BJP’s polarising campaign is having an impact, especially on the middle classes which are known to be taken in easily by its majoritarian agenda.
Kejriwal has always been adept at playing the victim card. When he entered politics seven years ago, he was constantly at war with the Modi government which, he charged, was meting out step-motherly treatment to Delhi only because it was led by the AAP. He complained that his government’s proposals were deliberately kept pending by the Centre and that he was not even allowed to appoint officials of his choice. But he has changed tack over the past year. Kejriwal stopped attacking Modi and even supported the Centre’s move to abrogate Article 370. Instead, the Delhi chief minister concentrated on propagating his government’s achievements and kept himself busy, launching a slew of schemes before the declaration of elections.
ALSO READ: If Shah Can’t Budge, Shaheen Bagh Too Won’t
As he fights to retain power for a second consecutive term, Kejriwal got another shot at playing the victim when BJP leader Parvesh Verma described him as a terrorist during the ongoing poll campaign. Instead of adopting a combative stand, which had become his trademark, Kejriwal struck an emotional note, saying he gave up his government job, sat on hunger strike in his fight against corruption and worked tirelessly to improve the education and health facilities in Delhi despite being severely diabetic. “I leave it to the people of Delhi to decide if they think of me as a son, brother or a terrorist,” he said plaintively.
This is not the first time that Kejriwal has donned a new avatar. He came into the limelight during the 2011 anti-corruption movement, demanding the immediate enactment of a Jan Lokpal Bill to scrutinize corruption cases against government officials and politicians.
But the activist-turned-politician quickly shifted his stand after the formation of the Aam Admi Party. Though he came to power on the anti-corruption plank, Kejriwal instead found merit in wooing the poor jhuggi jhopri residents and the lower middle classes by promising them cheaper power and water and better infrastructure, thus successfully hijacking the Congress support base.
The choice of a broom as his election symbol was another masterstroke as the scheduled castes immediately related to it as they believed it gave them dignity. At the same time, the broom symbolised the sweeping away of corruption and the promise of a cleaner government. Kejriwal also surprised mainstream political parties by building a strong party organization in a short span of time. His band of soldiers kept a low profile and worked tirelessly and silently in the slums as well as tony upper-middle-class colonies. He shocked his political rivals when the AAP won 67 of the 70 Delhi assembly seats in 2015.
For the BJP, the Delhi assembly election has become a prestige issue. For fifteen years, it tried but failed to dislodge the Congress. Today, it has put its entire election machinery at work to oust Kejriwal’ AAP, its new political enemy Unable to corner Kejriwal on the issue of poor governance, the BJP decided to go back to what is its trump card: communal polarisation. Besides demonizing the Shahbeen Bagh protesters, the BJP leaders are also highlighting the abrogation of Article 370, the triple talaq bill and the new citizenship law as the Modi government’s achievements to woo voters.
Though the BJP’s strategy of focusing on national issues did not yield the desired results in the recent Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly polls, the party is banking on the fact that as residents of the country’s capital, voters in Delhi have far greater exposure to national issues and are more influenced by them than voters in other states. It is equally true that the BJP has no choice but to highlight its ideological agenda as it is finding it difficult to corner the AAP on the issue of governance.
As Delhi goes to the polls on February 8, and campaigning by the three main political parties hots up, there is much speculation over who could win this key election. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the central government, has been recently bruised by defeats or weak performances in other state elections. It would want to regain its position by winning Delhi. But Delhi’s incumbent Aam Admi Party (AAP) government, currently in its second term, enjoys popularity and is largely not beset by anti-incumbency factors. Many believe, however, that the recent student protests in Delhi, which led to unprecedented violence across the city, particularly in university campuses, will have a bearing on the outcome of the elections.
Delhi is not a full-fledged state. Its government, no matter which party or alliance gets to form it, has limited jurisdiction over its administration. For instance, the state, home to nearly 30 million people, is policed by a force that comes under the central government’s home ministry and not the Delhi government. Likewise, matters relating to the state’s land come under the central government and not the state. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), which administers the central part of Delhi, including what is known as Lutyens’ Delhi, is under central government’s authority, while the three other municipal corporations for the rest of the state are governed by elected councillors but has blurred reporting lines—they report to the central government-appointed Lieutenant-Governor but are also partly funded out of the state government’s budgets.
When the government at the Centre and the government of Delhi’s state are politically aligned, the system works better. However, for the past five years, Delhi’s government has been led by the Aam Admi Party (AAP), headed by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, which has been at loggerheads with the central government and the Lieutenant-Governor. The Kejriwal government has been rooting for full statehood for Delhi as it feels, and probably rightly so, that its powers are hobbled by constraints.
During his two tenures—the first one lasted 49 days—Kejriwal has formed governments that have been remarkably transparent and largely untainted by corruption or any other scandals. His schemes, aimed at the poor and lower middle class segments of the population, have included free bus services for women, and reduced electricity and water bills, which have found great favour by ordinary voters. Besides, he has burnished his reputation as a representative of the common man by not eschewing his original activism. Kejriwal’s AAP gained popularity before he won electoral victories by staging protests to back citizens’ needs. Even as a sitting chief minister of Delhi, he has continued to build that image. He sat on a dharna in front of the Lieutenant-Governor’s office when the latter was not clearing files related to some schemes. And he continues to be the rallying point for anti-BJP voters.
It is true, however, that Kejriwal’s party turned in a poor show in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when he failed to win a single seat in Delhi. But in following months, he has recalibrated his position. When the NDA government brought the bill to bifurcate Jammu & Kashmir and scrap Article 370, Kejriwal promptly supported them. Kejriwal’s decision to support abolition of 370 comes from the understanding that in the Lok Sabha polls, a large number of Muslim voters had voted for the Congress. So, if Kejriwal cannot depend on a section of the Muslim vote, he would rather woo the wider Hindu vote-base. It’s a political gambit based on chasing electoral numbers. Whether it will work or not depends on how the BJP woos Delhi’s voters.
While Modi’s popularity among voters remains high, the BJP’s chief ministers can’t take their popularity for granted. This is evident from the string of losses the BJP has suffered in the assembly polls during the past year. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have not seen continuation of the BJP government. So, at the state level, the BJP looks vulnerable. Moreover, in the forthcoming Delhi elections, the BJP has not anointed anyone as the party’s contender for the chief minister’s post. Many voters will likely see the contest in February as a “Kejriwal vs. Who?” fight. It is likely that they could opt for the sitting chief minister as their preferred choice.
In all of this, the Congress’ position is the most vulnerable. In Delhi, the Congress is disadvantaged as it has no clear face to lead its charge. Its organisational disarray at the national level can also impact its fortunes in the elections. Kejriwal, on the other hand, has been quick to grab any opportunity to create an edge for himself and his party. The questionable conduct of the Delhi Police during the current student protests—in one instance, it entered a university campus and used violence against unarmed protestors; in another, it stood as passive bystanders while hooligans entered and laid siege in another campus and unleashed violence against students.
Delhi’s urban youth voters have rallied with student protestors and their collective disposition towards the BJP government has been changing. Urban youth in India have begun viewing the BJP and its recent efforts to change the Citizenship Act as discriminatory actions that go against the fabric of secularism that the Constitution of India guarantees. In Delhi, which has been the hotbed of student protests, this is most pronounced. Willy nilly, this could work to provide further advantage to Kejriwal and his party. Delhi’s youth who form a significant proportion of the electorate could prefer AAP to the BJP or the Congress. And, along with the poor and lower middle class voters, they could steer Kejriwal to a third term in the race for Delhi.