Real Reasons Why Kejriwal Won A 3rd Term In Delhi

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.

Watch: Aam Aadmi Reacts To Kejriwal’s Win

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.

Will JP Nadda Come Out Of Shah’s Shadow?

The humiliating defeat suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Delhi assembly election has not proved to be an auspicious beginning for the party’s month-old president JP Nadda. Though it is true that it was Union Home Minister Amit Shah who led the party’s high-decibel campaign in Delhi, history books will record the result as BJP’s first electoral drubbing under Nadda’s stewardship.

Out of power for over two decades, the BJP was predictably desperate to take control in Delhi. But the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party proved to be a formidable opponent and the BJP fell by the wayside once again.

Well before Nadda took over as the BJP’s 11th president, it was widely acknowledged that he will not enjoy the same powers as his predecessor Amit Shah did but, nevertheless, would be called to take responsibility for the party’s poll defeats as well as organisational matters.

Nadda began his tenure with a disadvantage as it is difficult to live up to Shah’s larger-than-life image. Amit Shah, who served as BJP president for five years has easily been the most powerful party head in recent times. Known for his supreme organisational skills, Shah is chiefly responsible for the BJP’s nation-wide expansion, having built a vast network of party workers and put in place formidable election machinery. No doubt Modi’s personality, charisma and famed oratory drew in the crowds but there is no denying that Shah contributed equally to the string of electoral victories notched by the BJP over the last five years.

ALSO READ: Shah Could Be Most Decisive HM

Given that Shah has revamped the party organisation from scratch and placed his loyalists in key positions, there are serious doubts that the affable, low-key and smiling Nadda will be allowed functional autonomy. Will he be able to take independent decisions, will he constantly be looking over his shoulder, will he be allowed to appoint his own team or will he be a lame-duck party president? These are the questions doing the rounds in the BJP as there is all-round agreement that Shah will not relinquish his grip over the party organisation. This was evident in the run-up to the Delhi assembly polls as it was Shah and not Nadda who planned and led the party’s election campaign.

In fact, it is acknowledged that Nadda was chosen to head the BJP precisely because he is willing to play the second fiddle to Shah. Party leaders maintain that the new president is unlikely to make any major changes in the near future and that he will be consulting Shah before taking key decisions. For the moment, state party chiefs appointed by Shah have been re-elected, ensuring that the outgoing party president remains omnipresent.

ALSO READ: Anti-CAA Protests Erupt In Country

Though Nadda has inherited a far stronger party organisation as compared to his earlier predecessors, the new BJP president also faces a fair share of challenges. He has taken over as party chief at a time when the BJP scraped through in the Haryana assembly polls, failed to form a government in Maharashtra and was roundly defeated in Jharkhand. The party’s relations with its allies have come under strain while the ongoing protests against the new citizenship law, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register have blotted the BJP’s copybook.

These developments have predictably came as a rude shock to the BJP leadership and its cadres who were convinced that the party was invincible, especially after it came to power for a second consecutive term last May with a massive mandate.

WATCH: Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger

Nadda’s first task has been to boost the morale of party workers and make them believe that the recent assembly poll results were a flash in the pan and that the BJP’s expansion plans are on course.

After Delhi, the Bihar election poses the next big challenge this year. The party’s ally, the Janata Dal (U), has upped the ante, meant primarily to mount pressure on the BJP for a larger share of seats in this year’s assembly elections. Realising that the BJP cannot afford to alienate its allies at this juncture, Amit Shah has already declared Nitish Kumar as the coalition’s chief ministerial candidate, which effectively puts the Janata Dal (U) in the driver’s seat. This has upset the BJP’s Bihar unit which has been pressing for a senior role in the state and is even demanding that the next chief minister should be from their party.          

The BJP has to necessarily treat its allies with kid gloves as they have been complaining  about the saffron party’s “big brother” attitude and that they are being taken for granted. While Shiv Sena has already parted company with the BJP, other alliance partners like the Lok Janshakti Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal have also questioned the BJP’s style of functioning.

The crucial West Bengal assembly election next year will also be held during Nadda’s tenure. The BJP has been working methodically on the ground in this state for the past several years now and has staked its prestige on dethroning Mamata Banerjee.

ALSO READ: West Bengal Follows AAP Model

But the Trinamool Congress chief is putting up a spirited fight, sending out a clear message to the BJP that it will not be so easy to oust her. Banerjee has declared war against the Modi government on the issues pertaining to the CAA-NRC-NPR and also activated her party cadres who have spread across the state to explain the implications of the Centre’s decision to the poor and illiterate. The BJP, on the other hand, is struggling to get across its message.

As in the case of Delhi, Shah can be expected to take charge of the Bihar and West Bengal assembly polls while Nadda will, at best, be a marginal player. Again it will be left to Shah to mollify the party’s allies as it is too sensitive and important a task to be handled by Nadda.

Like all political parties led by strong leaders, a BJP defeat will be seen as Nadda’s failure while a victory will be credited to Modi and Shah.

Why Arvind Kejriwal Still Has The Edge In Delhi Polls

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.