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.

JNU victim Aneek Das violence has left deep scars

‘JNU Violence Has Left Deep Scars On My Memory’

Aneek Das, 22, a Third Year German Language student in Jawaharlal Nehru University, recalls the terror unleashed by masked mob inside the campus on January 5. He still gets nightmares

Many students and teachers had assembled at the Sabarmati T-point on Sunday (January 5) for a peace march called by JNUTA (Jawaharlal Nehru Teachers’ Association). The peace march had been called because the campus had been witnessing sporadic incidents of violence related to registration issues.

The students who had been protesting against the fees hike were of the view that agreeing to registration would mean agreeing to the increased fee structure. Also, since the examinations for the current semester had not been conducted in the university, how could we possibly get ourselves enrolled for the next semester?

A day before the Sunday march the JNU students affiliated to the BJP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP wanted to get themselves registered. However, they could not do so because the Wi-Fi connection was disconnected (It is still not clear if someone disconnected the Wi-Fi on purpose or it was a mechanical glitch). The main fight between the left and right wing students was on this issue until matters got out of hand on Sunday around 7.30 pm. From then on, it was mayhem at an unprecedented scale.

Men and women were both part of the masked mob that entered our campus on Sunday. The police, which till then had been keeping a very sharp eye on the campus (even checking each and every auto that entered the campus), allowed a mob to run riot. Being masked should have raised suspicion and they could have been denied entry. Even the guards who are supposed to ‘guard’ the campus were nowhere to be seen. It was disheartening as well as scary to know that such violence can occur on a university campus. Once the attackers charged on the march, the participants ran to save their lives. However, several professors couldn’t run fast and were targeted by the mob. The respected faculty got beaten mercilessly along with a few other students.

I, along with many of my friends, ran to the nearest hostel which is Sabarmati to save our lives. We entered rooms of our friends and put the bed as barricade on the doors. The frustrated mob smashed the window panes to strike fear and vent out their anger. Finally, they went away to another hostel. Though most of us were not badly physically hurt, some of us are undergoing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for sure. Even while sleeping I wake up in cold sweat when I feel a group of men is banging on my door to break it open. I guess it will take a long time for these scars to go away.

I am a third year student of German at JNU, and I haven’t seen this scale of violence in the campus. Reports are out which shows outsiders entered the campus and unleashed terror on unsuspecting students and teachers. You can’t even imagine the pain and worry that our parents are going through. We are protesting the fees hike because we can’t afford increased fees (which is quite a large amount, unlike what a section of the media have shown).

Our parents are asking us to come home or keep away from the campus until the situation returns to normal, but the thing is that the situation in JNU isn’t being allowed to be normal for the past 3-4 years. When is the situation ever going to be normal enough for us to feel safe?