AAP's self-inflicted defeat is BJP's gain

Municipal elections normally do not have a major impact on national politics. But the results of Sunday’s elections for the three municipal corporations of Delhi (MCD) may leave an impression beyond Delhi’s borders. The BJP has won handsomely, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has suffered a serious setback and the Congress has fared poorly. In the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections, the AAP had decimated the Congress — which had ruled the state for 15 years — and had reduced the BJP to a mere three-member party. The  victory was specially remarkable as it came within a year of the BJP winning a big majority in Parliament. It may have spurred AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal’s ambition to emerge as a major factor in national politics.

But the AAP has come a distant runner-up in the MCD elections, winning only 48 of the 270 seats it contested. After the party’s recent losses in Punjab and Goa, the defeat on its home turf might be a sign of popular disenchantment with the politics of confrontation it has practised. The party failed to make the poor record of the municipal bodies in Delhi the main issue in the elections. The AAP may also have given the impression that it was neglecting Delhi when it tried to spread to the other states. But the party is refusing to accept defeat with grace and to acknowledge that there is a need to change its style of politics and governance. Instead, it continues to blame voting machines for its defeat.

The BJP managed to win again, despite its pedestrian performance in the last two terms in civic bodies, mainly on the stren­gth of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image. The party consciously fielded new faces in the elections to fight the anti-incumbency sentiment. It had also won over leaders of both the Congress and the AAP. While the BJP’s vote share increased only by about 4% from the last Assembly elections and even fell from the last municipal polls, it won a disproportionately big victory because of the steep fall in the AAP’s vote share from 54.3% to 26.21%. For the Congress, which had hoped to do better in Delhi after its recent victory in Punjab, the elections provide little consolation. It has improved its vote share from 9.7% in 2015 to 21.11% now, but is in a dismal third position with just 30 seats. It was led poorly, had serious internal dissensions and suffered from desertions. The Congress also has to do some serious thinking and go in for a genuine makeover and change of strategies if it has to regain its relevance in Delhi and even elsewhere.

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