The Delhi Assembly polls have come to be framed as a battle between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s commitment to its interpretation of nationalism, especially a referendum on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), versus the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s claims of having delivered efficient governance.
Delhi’s 14.7 million voters will queue up to cast their vote on Saturday and also decide the fate of the only successful political start-up to emerge on the Indian political scene in the past 35 years, after the birth of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984.
The AAP hopes to repeat its formula of 2015, when it won 67 of the 70 seats in the Assembly after it consolidated non-BJP votes. The BJP had hung on to its traditional 32 per cent vote share, but the Congress’s vote share collapsed to 9.3 per cent, shifting to AAP. At 54.3 per cent, the AAP also ensured that it received the vote shares of some smaller players, particularly the BSP.
The election campaign this time around has been marked by incendiary speeches that landed some leaders in trouble with the Election Commission. The BJP upped the ante on the issue of protestors occupying a small corner on the margins of the city, at Shaheen Bagh, as a sign of “anarchy” and “lawlessness”.
The BJP’s attempt has been to consolidate its Hindu support base to overcome the 32-33 per cent vote share barrier, and repeat the successes of the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP is counting on its greater cadre strength. It believes the fascination with AAP has declined over the years, and that it no longer has the popular support it enjoyed in 2015.
The BJP had asked about 100,000 of its workers from across the country to campaign in Delhi and deployed 240 of its Members of Parliament to spend the last couple of days in previously unauthorised colonies that it regularised. It believes regularising colonies, home to 400,000 people, would help it win about 40 seats.
However, what could hurt the BJP is the near absence of the Congress in the battle. The latter’s strategy appears to be to focus on half-a-dozen ‘winnable’ seats.
Unlike most other Opposition parties that have supported the ongoing anti-CAA protests across India, the AAP leadership, led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, carefully kept away. Kejriwal even demanded that the Delhi Police evict the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, since their presence had caused traffic jams and inconvenienced the public.
The AAP has reached out to the poor and women, who have benefitted from its schemes — including subsidies on power consumption and water, and free transport for women on city buses. It has also reached out to the youth upset with the economic slowdown and beating up of students at Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The results of the polls could impact national politics as the BJP has turned it into a referendum on CAA. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has staked his prestige on the election and campaigned door-to-door.
Meanwhile, the AAP has received support from several regional parties. The Trinamool Congress has announced its support to AAP. According to sources, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav told his party workers to campaign for AAP, as did the Left parties. If Kejriwal secures a big win, it could have implications for opposition politics as well.