Arvind Kejriwal is used to being the challenger.
The Aam Aadmi Party founder and chief took and won against three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit in 2013, contested and lost against Narendra Modi in Varanasi in 2014, and then led his party to a whopping 67 of Delhi’s 70 seats in 2015, less than a year after the Bharatiya Janata Party rode a huge wave into power nationally.
On Tuesday, India will find out if Kejriwal’s political appeal has more staying power than the promise of change. Delhi counts votes on Tuesday after the most polarising, hate-filled election campaign in recent times, and the result will come down to Kejriwal versus the BJP.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the result:
- AAP has tried to go from the ‘protesting’ party to one with a solid governance record
Vijayta Lalwani reported on the change in image projected by the party that emerged out of the nationwide anti-corruption movement at the start of the 2010s. Kejriwal was once constantly targeting the BJP and the Congress with direct attacks.
Over the last year or so – since the BJP won more than 50% of votes in Lok Sabha elections in the capital – the party has shifted its campaign to focus on its achievements, particularly in the fields of education and healthcare, while touting cheaper water and electricity bills and free bus rides for women.
AAP now has a ‘Delhi model’. Will this be endorsed by the electorate?
- BJP has no chief ministerial candidate – so it focused on religious polarisation
In 2015, the BJP parachuted in former police officer Kiran Bedi as the face of its Delhi campaign, to paper over infighting within the state unit. The result: three seats out of 70.
As Vijayta Lalwani reported, the intervening years have not really helped to create a clearer face within the Delhi BJP, despite the induction of film star Manoj Tiwari. With the polls at the start of 2020 showing the BJP well behind AAP, the saffron party switched tack and decided to focus almost entirely on religious polarisation as its tactic, hoping to consolidate Hindu voters.
From biryani to Pakistan, all the tried-and-tested dog-whistles turned up, including a Union Minister leading chants for “traitors”, i.e. anyone opposed to the BJP, to be shot. Did it work? And if so, will it be enough to narrow the gap between AAP and BJP? Will the BJP break its record of middling state election results?
- The politicisation of Shaheen Bagh
At the centre of the BJP’s religiously polarised campaign was the attempt to demonise Shaheen Bagh, an area in the capital where protesters have been demonstrating for more than two months now against the Centre’s changes to Citizenship laws that many believe will be used to harass Indian Muslims.
While AAP attempted to skirt the issue and focus on governance, the BJP explicitly turned the election into a referendum on the protest. Home Minister Amit Shah asked Delhi’s voters to press the BJP button on the voting machines with such anger that an electric current is felt at Shaheen Bagh.
Yet ordinary voters in many cases seem to focus on bread-and-butter issues, which would seem to give AAP an edge. And as Supriya Sharma pointed out, AAP’s attempts to avoid a Shaheen Bagh conversation reflect the fact that many of its supporters too are unhappy with the protests – but may not vote on that issue.
What will the result mean for the protests in Delhi?
- Exit polls and voter turnout
According to the exit polls, released after voting ended on Saturday, AAP should register a comfortable victory on Tuesday. The surveys suggested a slight narrowing of the gap between the two parties over the last five years, but with the BJP still at a very distant second. If these polls are to be believed, counting day will go as most people had expected for much of the month.
There was a bit of controversy after the voting however, when the Election Commission took an unusually long time to reveal the final turnout numbers, spurring on many conspiracy theories – even though the final figures were not too far off expectations. Any trend that deviates heavily from the exit polls, which have been wrong in the past, will only add fuel to this fire.
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