As expected Aam Admi Party (AAP) has romped home in Delhi State elections in style. While their victory was a foregone conclusion, even they must have been surprised with the number of seats won. In 2015 BJP lost in Delhi because it was complacent and perhaps over confident after the 2014 national victory. In 2020 it lost due to lack of a clear Delhi centric strategy, inability to project a leader of stature as Chief Ministerial candidate and being late in kicking off their election campaign.
BJP campaign led by Amit Shah was loud, brazen and over the top in the four weeks before elections. The campaign was spearheaded by senior party leaders starting from Prime Minister, many central cabinet ministers, Chief Ministers of many BJP ruled states and other party leaders. State level leadership was the glaring missing link. Manoj Tiwari, local Delhi state party chief was no match for Arvind Kejriwal (AK) who has established a close connect with a large section of Delhi voters over the years. Tiwari lacks stature and charisma to attract and convince informed Delhi voters. To many in Delhi he continues to be an outsider and the voting pattern shows that he does not cut much ice even with Poorvanchali voters. Just as most opposition at national level claims that BJP has neither done any good work nor provided good governance, BJP’s Delhi campaign too followed the same line when they targeted AAP for neither providing good governance nor having done any worthwhile work in line with promises made. This ensured BJP too came a cropper at state level just as the opposition did at national level in 2019.
AAP campaign on the other hand was comparatively subdued, based more on local connect and focused on highlighting the work done in the state. The quantum and quality of work done in five years could be debatable but AAP has to be given credit for convincing the voter that a lot had been done. AAP marketed its limited achievements in a very effective manner. AK kept a low profile on contentious issues like CAA or NRC, Shaheen Bagh protests and reorganisation of erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. He also refrained from targeting top leadership of BJP. This ensured that his campaign was low key and limited to simple issues like freebies, improvement of schools, setting up of mohalla clinics and women security. AK’s master stroke was perhaps his veiled references to the road blocks placed by central government that did not allow him to do more. In the same vein he backed away from any law and order issue in Delhi by stating that the police were under central government and not under his control. That showed BJP in bad light and many in Delhi did not appreciate that.
Majority of Delhi voters are educated and reasonably aware of what is happening in the country. The state also has a lot of young voters, many of whom had openly supported anti-CAA protests. It is no secret that these young voters also blamed BJP for the happenings in JNU and police action against Jamia Milia students. It may be safe to assume that a large percentage of their vote went to AAP. As per one estimate, Poorvanchali migrants account for nearly 35% of Delhi’s voting population. Without hurting any one’s sentiments, for many of them coming to Delhi from their backward villages or small towns is akin to a graduate engineer from Delhi going to USA to seek more lucrative pastures. They come with the sole aim of earning and saving money. So, if AAP government gives them some freebies that help them to save a few hundred rupees every month, they have no hesitation to vote for the party. Is it any wonder nearly all the seats where they hold sway have gone to AAP?
But that is not all. It appears BJP’s traditional vote bank of traders and small business men too seems to have shrunk as is evident from the losses it suffered in areas like Karol Bagh, Sadar Bazar and Chandni Chowk. Same is the case with the middle-class support that it has always enjoyed as it failed in areas like Moti Bagh, Delhi Cantonment and R K Puram that are dominated by government employees. The huge vote bank of hawkers and unauthorised vendors, that are spread all over Delhi, too seems to have shifted to AAP as they had a free run for last five years without any restrictions or penalties. Did BJP’s differences with SAD also hurt them? Perhaps they did as Sikh dominated localities like Tilak Nagar and Hari Nagar have voted for AAP. Results show that polling percentage in minority (Muslim) dominated areas has been very high. This is evident from the huge victory margins of AAP’s Muslim candidates from constituencies like Okhla, Seelampur and Matia Mahal. With Congress party throwing in the towel and ensuring that Muslim votes were not divided, AAP had virtually no opposition in such constituencies.
As far as vote shares go, BJP’s share has increased to nearly 38.5 percent, an increase of about six percent as compared to 2015 elections. Obviously, this increase was insufficient to translate into victories in various constituencies. It still trails AAP by about fifteen percent who have lost about one percent and secured 53.8%. Interestingly for national elections in 2019, BJP had a vote share of 56% as compared to 18% of AAP. BJP leadership must have hoped that majority in Delhi would be with them and show its support for government policies on Articles 370 & 35A, Ram Mandir, Citizenship Amendment Bill and National Register of Citizenship. The fact that it did not would hurt BJP a lot.
It appears that in coming years Delhi state elections will be decided by voting pattern of Muslims (including Muslim migrants from other states) and Poorvanchali migrants who account for nearly 46- 48% of votes. With freebies on the increase one can only expect more migrants to make Delhi their home. Original Delhi citizens who made Delhi their home in 1947 and have lived in the city along with their descendants from 1947 onwards, will not have the privilege of choosing their government any more. The question is do they really care and are they genuinely interested in choosing their government?
There is another interesting fact that emerges from this election. The voters are not very concerned if minorities or their supporters practice politics of hate but if BJP does the same, it is blamed for encouraging communal divide. Perhaps that explains why scores of inflammatory speeches, slogans and chants from Muslims, Congress leaders and others for months were acceptable but a few reactions from some BJP leaders were not. Once again this is a case where the cause is overlooked but the effect becomes all important. Perhaps this is a fall out of over six decades of minority appeasement policies. Do Delhi results indicate that majority has given up and wants to avoid confrontation or involvement with rising Muslim activism – both political and communal? Should one assume that Delhi public has accepted Shaheen Bagh protests as legitimate despite the problems that have been created for millions of Delhi citizens for last two months? Should voter’s choice for state elections be totally divorced from important national issues? If answers to these questions are in the affirmative, then it is a serious development that could have a telling effect in the years to come.