Early trends suggest that the Aam Admi Party is set to get a second term in Delhi and Arvind Kejriwal a third shot as the chief minister. It began as a comfortable cruise for the AAP, turned into a closer contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a bounce back for the AAP.
At the time of writing AAP was projected to win 55 of the 70 seats while the BJP was placed at a distant second with leads in just 15 seats. The Congress seemed unlikely to open its account for the second consecutive time since 2015. However, the spike in the BJP's vote share to a little over 40 percent as of now suggested that a chunk of the Congress votes might have shifted to AAP.
However, the surprise element was that Manish Sisodia, Kejriwal's man for all seasons and reasons, was trailing in his constituency, Patparganj in East Delhi. Sisodia was perceived as the Delhi government's mover and shaker and the author of its far-reaching education and health reforms. The shock reversal of Sisodia's fortunes has been attributed to a statement he made in the penultimate phase of electioneering that was construed as his support to the Shaheen Bagh protests, contrary to the official line that directed that the AAP's stand must be neutral.
However, Sisodia's reversal is a side story to an election in which the AAP fought back every inch of the way against the BJP's formidable organisational machinery and a feverish campaign, that bordered on the vicious, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Home minister Amit Shah, with "stars" like Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, deployed to accentuate the "faith" divide in the aftermath of the agitation against the Centre's citizenship package.
Kejriwal refused to get ensnared by the BJP's repeated attempts to force him to take a stand on the Shaheen Bagh protests and stuck to his government's record and conduct in the social sector and its pro-poor policies and schemes. The campaign helped the Aap bridge the divide across castes and regions and brought chunks of the migrant votes from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to the AAP. This, despite the BJP appointing North-East Delhi MP, Manoj Tiwari as its state president. Tiwari is a popular Bhojpuri film actor and singer but he was not accepted by the BJP's rank-and-file. In the first three years of his tenure, Kejriwal battled the Centre's continued hostility that ended up depriving the Delhi government of central funds, and raised questions over the concept of cooperative federalism that PM Modi advocated for years.
The BJP was a late-comer to the elections but when it stepped on the plate, it did it with full fury under the stewardship of Shah. The BJP's discourse transformed from a focus on bijli, sadak, paani to a macro nationalist canvas that was dominated by ultra nationalism that manifested itself in incendiary slogans raised by central ministers in public meetings.
While the BJP's campaign seemed to have given it some traction, the AAP's larger constituency refused to get swayed by the sentiments and took a long hard view of what the AAP's defeat might have implied: a loss of freebies and heavy subsidies that resulted in substantial monthly savings for the less well-off.