Delhi Assembly Election 2020: Message from the Capital

Delhi Assembly Election 2020: Message from the Capital

AAP 62; BJP 8 

The much-awaited Delhi Assembly election results are out. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has retained power with almost as big a win as in 2015; the BJP has improved its position in the Assembly slightly, and Congress has drawn a blank. Psephologists will come out with greater details on the constituency-wise results and vote share of the parties in the days to come. Our central concern here is to interpret the Delhi electoral outcome from the perspective of the three main parties, AAP, BJP and Congress.

As for as the AAP is concerned, it has only lost five seats from its 2015 tally of 67 of 70, and this must be viewed especially against the background of the campaign mounted by the BJP. Retaining power, and with such a mandate, is a big achievement. AAP’s success must also be understood against the background of anti-incumbency that ruling parties generally face. As some of its leaders have pointed out, its victory is a pro-incumbency vote!

We will need to analyse the victory of AAP from multiple angles. Many factors need to be recounted here. Firstly, the sterling leadership role which Arvind Kejriwal has provided to the party; he has emerged as a mature and seasoned leader who campaigned for the party decisively on the basis of his government’s performance. The party’s success is testimony to the positive way in which his policies brought relief to Delhi voters in terms of free water and electricity to the common man, free bus service for women, public health care —the Mohalla Clinics have been hugely welcomed by the people of Delhi — and education up to higher secondary school level. Simply put, Kejriwal sought votes for his pro-aam aadmi policies and the voters have clearly rewarded him.

Secondly, Kejriwal steered clear of the controversial issues like the CAA, NRC, and the Shaheen Bagh protest against the CAA. He even said that he would have cleared the Shaheen Bagh area keeping in mind the inconvenience caused to the public if the home ministry was under him.

Thirdly, Kejriwal did not indulge in an anti-Modi tirade throughout his electoral campaign. He made a clear distinction between the national elections and the state/local election, asking voters to vote him back to power for his performance.  

Kejriwal has emerged from this electoral contest a more seasoned leader who should be taken seriously by the opposition parties in their fight against the BJP. He stuck to his own narrative of Aam Aadmi-centric governance and did not fall prey to the communally polarised narrative of the BJP.

Though in all probability, Kejriwal will stay focused on Delhi, he may emerge as a regional satrap, forcing other state leaders to recognise him as a potential leader of a potential federal front, the need for which will gain currency in the months to come. Age is on his side and his clean image is surely an advantage.

The BJP, which has emerged a distant second with just eight seats out of 70, has only slightly improved its position. Home Minister Amit Shah had boasted of winning 45 seats. That the BJP has not been able to unseat the AAP signifies in clear terms the failure of the party’s strategy of projecting national issues like the CAA in state elections. Its strategy of harping on the Shaheen Bagh protest to reap electoral dividends has failed. The message is loud and clear: the BJP should have stuck to local issues in the campaign. In fact, it is clear that the BJP could not come up with a matching manifesto to counter the AAP’s to impress Delhi’s voters.

The performance of the BJP in the Delhi elections, its gain of five seats in the Assembly notwithstanding, underlines the limits of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah strategy of campaigning, despite both of them addressing nearly 40 rallies during the campaign. Another factor which seems to have worked against the BJP is its failure, perhaps unwillingness, to project a chief ministerial candidate. This is a mistake, even if a deliberate strategy, which the Modi-led BJP has adopted in several Assembly elections. It has not worked in most elections, and it certainly did not work in Delhi. The central leadership of the BJP may have to do some rethinking in this regard for the upcoming Assembly elections.

The third and not-so important player in the Delhi elections was the Congress party. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the Congress that the party showed no visible interest in the election right from the time of the announcement of the poll dates by the Election Commission. The dilemma of the party perhaps was whether to fight the election independently or get into an alliance with AAP. The party has no visible state-level leader after the demise of Sheila Dikshit, who held power for three terms before she was unseated by Kejriwal in 2013. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra only did some nominal campaigning towards the end of the campaign period.

The Delhi results conveyed multiple messages: One, regional parties continue to be key players in Indian politics. Two, the BJP has to go back to the drawing board and rework on the issues and strategies it should project in the upcoming state assembly elections, instead of harping on national issues and on polarising campaigns. Three, the Congress party has to decide as to whether it will be an independent player or get into an alliance with other players if it has to play a meaningful role in Indian politics.

(The writer is a former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University, and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR)

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