Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party suffered a stunning defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections that were seen as a referendum on the BJP government policies, including the controversial national citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by incumbent chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, has won 62 seats in the 70-member assembly while the BJP won 8 seats, a minor improvement on its 2015 tally of three. The Congress Party drew a blank.
The results brought to a close a vitriolic and fiercely-fought election that was marked with communally charged statements, especially by the BJP.
The party’s defeat was widely viewed as a setback to Modi’s prestige and the purported support for his Hindutva policies as it came less than eight months after he led the BJP to a resounding victory in national elections winning all seven of the capital’s parliamentary seats.
The BJP relied on its Hindu nationalist rhetoric, criticizing a peaceful gathering of thousands in Shaheen Bagh — a largely Muslim neighborhood in Delhi —which has been protesting against the new citizenship law.
According to analysts quoted in news18.com, the BJP, led by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, used the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and reported resentment against related protests in Shaheen Bagh locality by ordinary people due to road blockade for nearly two months as its primary canvassing theme, backed by its larger ‘nationalism’ plank and attempts at consolidation of Hindu votes in its favor.
AAP’s campaign on the other hand had performance and delivery on basic services like education and healthcare as key ingredients, its populist measures such as cheap electricity and water with a sprinkling of soft Hindutva.
BJP leaders painted the protesters at Shaheen Bagh as dangerous traitors who wanted to break up the country. They also alleged that the AAP was supporting terrorists, but evidently the BJP tactic did not chime with voters.
Despite BJP’s all out effort to defeat the AAP candidate in Shaheen Bagh, AAP leader Amanatullah Khan won against BJP’s Braham Singh in the Okhla constituency that includes Shaheen Bagh, the epicenter of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests. In the 2015 elections, too, Khan had defeated BJP’s Braham Singh by over 60,000 votes.
News reports said the election results have shown that work on the ground has succeeded over BJP’s jingoism. Timesnownews.com noted that the vitriolic speeches attacking Kejriwal were used by IIT-trained former bureaucrat to his advantage as he projected himself as a victim of the BJP’s odium.
According to news reports over 80 percent of the lower income group gave a thumbs up to Kejriwal thanks to regularization of illegal colonies and free water and power delivered by the AAP.
Many felt that Kejriwal’s victory offered a breather to a largely divided and demoralized opposition — and it proved that good governance wins votes.
In the 2015 elections, Kejriwal’s party won 67 seats and the BJP three.
The election results marked further decline in the fortune of the Congress party as this time it failed to win a single seat. The Congress party was in power for three consecutive terms from 1998 under the leadership of the late Sheila Dikshit.
Modi in a Tweet congratulated Kejriwal for his party’s victory. “Wishing them the very best in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of Delhi,” Modi said.
The BJP’s sixth consecutive loss in an assembly polls — although the party managed to form a government in Haryana — brought under focus a vital question if people of India really supports laws like CAA and subscribe to BJP’s hardline Hindutva.
Research by political scientists Rahul Verma and Pranav Gupta shows that when it comes to Delhi, the BJP has always impressively grew in general elections — 46 percent of the popular vote in 2014 and 56 percent of the vote in 2019.
But it then slid back to its “core base” — some 32% of the vote — in state elections. The fact that the once-dominant Congress party has been eclipsed might also have helped Kejriwal’s party grow, according to a BBC report.
Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister and AAP’s winning candidate from Patparganj thanked Delhi for “respecting the work of five years”.
In a Tweet in Hindi, Sisodia said, “Thank you from the heart Delhi....for respecting the work of five years....for respecting education....real patriotism is to provide good quality education while remaining in power.”
The decisive victory in the bitterly-fought Delhi poll was likely to enhance AAP’s credibility as a potential contender for power, especially given the drift of the opposition Congress under the lackluster leadership of the Gandhi family, the Financial Times noted in a report.
“We are in an era where you have, once more, a central gravitational force around which Indian politics revolves,” Milan Vaishnav, the director of the south Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was quoted as saying by Guardian.