As the general election drew to a close, Arvind Kejriwal seemed to hint that the Aam Aadmi Party could lose in Delhi. The chief minister claimed on May 18 that the city’s Muslim vote, which his party had been banking on, shifted to the Congress at the last moment. “Until 48 hours before polling, it seemed like all seven seats will come to AAP,” he said. “But at the last moment, the complete Muslim vote got shifted to the Congress. We are trying to figure out what happened.”
If this is indeed the case, what does it portend for AAP?
It could spell trouble for AAP in next year’s Assembly election, said Biswajit Mohanty, a political science professor at Deshbandhu College, Delhi. “It is a fact that the Muslim vote is going en bloc to the Congress in Delhi,” he said. “If the Congress does well now, then they will be upbeat.”
In the immediate term, it is an admission that the party will not win any seats when the results are declared on May 23, argued Praveen Rai of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “A significant number of voters has shifted to the Congress and AAP’s support may dip below 15%. After the results, AAP is going to blame EVMs, the Congress party and Muslims for its electoral rout,” Rai said, referring to the electronic voting machines. “It is totally unfair and absurd to blame a religious community. AAP failed to consolidate its support base and it gradually moved away.”
Muslims are about 13% of Delhi’s population and they largely backed AAP in the 2015 Assembly election in which the party garnered 54.3% of the vote, winning 67 of the 70 seats. It was a huge jump in support from the 2014 parliamentary election where AAP had won 32.9% of the total vote. In the municipal polls held in 2017, however, the party’s vote share crashed to some 26%, putting it neck and neck with the Congress, which had failed to take a single seat in the Assembly election.
Rai contended that “sections of the Delhi electorate opposed to the BJP perceived the Congress to be the main challenger and, hence, voted for the grand old party instead of AAP”. The resulting split likely helped the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Indeed, most exit polls predict the BJP will retain all seven of Delhi’s seats, with a few giving a seat each to the Congress or AAP.
If Kejriwal’s party does come up empty, its future prospects would be severely damaged, said Rai. “Such an outcome will have an adverse impact on AAP,” he explained, “as hordes of its cadres and MLAs will dump the party for greener pastures.”
Mohanty agreed with Rai’s assessment. “Anti-BJP Hindus will definitely go to the Congress rather than AAP,” he said. “AAP will retain some of the lower class and lower caste votes but that support too might dwindle later if the Congress puts up a good show in this election.”
Scroll.in tried contacting AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj, Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh and Lok Sabha candidates Atishi and Pankaj Gupta for comment on Kejriwal’s remarks, but none of them responded to phone calls or text messages.
‘Muslims will always be blamed’
Several Muslim voters Scroll.in with in Delhi confirmed they voted for the Congress to make, as one of them out put it, “the strong party stronger to defeat the BJP”. Others, however, insisted that they voted for AAP because of the party’s work on healthcare and education.
“Muslims will always be blamed,” Masoom Azam, a tailor in Trilokpuri, East Delhi, responded when asked about the chief minister’s remarks.
Azam voted for the Congress “because they had better candidates”. “Kejriwal has no place in Lok Sabha,” he said. “He never had a big vote bank among Muslims anyway. But we will vote for AAP in the Assembly election.”
It is Kejriwal’s fault that his party did not get the Muslim vote, Azam contended: “Why couldn’t he just take the four seats the Congress gave him and form an alliance? Why did he get greedy for Punjab?”
Faizan Khan, a student in Trilokpuri, said his vote would have “gone to waste” had he supported AAP. “This is an election to defeat the BJP,” he added. “They will blame us, that is what political parties do. But we voted for a strong party to make it stronger.”
He too criticised AAP for not allying with the Congress. “We would have blindly voted for the alliance if we had one in Delhi like Uttar Pradesh has mahagathbandan,” Khan said.
Nahim Abbas, a plumber from the same locality, said Kejriwal’s “thinking is wrong”. “Nothing would change with AAP winning two-three seats, so we gave our vote to a stronger party,” he said. “I knew he wouldn’t win the Lok Sabha election but we will vote for him in the Assembly election.”
Mohammad Furquan, a bus driver in Trilokpuri, faulted AAP for making its demand for full statehood a central theme of the campaign. “We know Delhi will never get full statehood,” he explained. “People didn’t believe in their campaign. This election is for choosing the prime minister.”
In Chandni Chowk, Mohammad Zahid said the majority of the Muslim vote went to the Congress. “We haven’t seen as much trouble in our business as in these last five years,” said Zahid, who runs a business renting out load carriers. “Sealing is also a very big issue. Now, we just want the BJP to go. AAP didn’t do anything for us even though they have full majority in the Assembly.”
Not all Muslims said they voted for the Congress, though. “Most Muslim votes went to AAP,” said Mohammad Rashid, an East Delhi resident who works at a trading firm. “Kejriwal is wrong. You cannot blame the whole community. Even if Muslims don’t vote for AAP, their vote share will not go down.”
Abbas Athar, an electrician, also in East Delhi, said he voted for full statehood. But he posed a question to Kejriwal: “It’s a matter of suspense. Till the results don’t come out, how can he say that Muslims did not vote for him?”