In the end, things turned out as expected. Despite a massive effort from the Bharatiya Janata Party – 5,000 campaign events, rallies by ministers and Members of Parliament, a high-pitched online campaign to polarise the electorate – the Aam Aadmi Party is all set to form the government in Delhi again, for another five years.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been vindicated. Despite being called a terrorist by his opponents, Kejriwal’s AAP looks on course to win 63 of the capital’s 70 seats, according to leads and results at 4 pm, well ahead of the 35-seat halfway mark.
That is a drop of four seats from AAP’s massive 2015 victory of 67 seats, but it still places them miles ahead of the second-placed BJP, which is on course to win just seven seats. The Congress, as widely expected, will not win any.
Here are some quick take-aways.
Arvind Kejriwal’s stature grows
The AAP founder has had to reinvent his image over and over. From an anti-corruption crusader to a politician who swept the elections and then expelled other senior leaders from his party to an incumbent chief minister who had to re-tool his electoral campaign after his party came third in Lok Sabha polls in Delhi in May, Kejriwal has constantly altered his strategy.
It may not have worked in Varanasi, where Kejriwal took on Narendra Modi in the 2014 elections, or in Punjab, which AAP hoped to win in 2017. But Delhi is now decidedly an AAP bastion at the state level. Kejriwal has established himself as a leader who can weather the full force of BJP attacks, not just surviving but thriving – with his party winning more than four-fifths of the state assembly.
Kerjiwal has attempted to go national in the past and been chastened by trying to grow too big, too fast. Whether he tries to do that again, he now has a firm foundation on which to build.
AAP has a ‘Delhi model’
Despite the BJP’s attempts to attack AAP’s policies as being rooted in “freebie culture”, the Aam Aadmi Party’s focus on education, healthcare, subsidies for water and electricity, and innovative moves like free bus tickets for women has been given an enthusiastic thumbs up by the electorate.
Governments around the country already talk of replicating the “Delhi model”, whether that means offering electricity subsidies or implementing the blueprint laid down by AAP for primary education.
The last time a state had such a clear model to tout was Gujarat under Modi, and the reputation he gained from it helped him launch a campaign to become prime minister. Of course, Delhi, as a Union Territory, and a city-state with a much smaller population, may not be comparable. Yet AAP’s Delhi model is now established in public consciousness, and has the stamp of approval through a massive re-election mandate.
Meanwhile, Kejriwal’s politics do not have the baggage that the Congress must contend with. The BJP was unable to credibly accuse it of corruption, of “minority appeasement” or of dallying with “anti-nationals.” Instead, Kejriwal pursued a straightforward, development-focused campaign, while using the media to remind voters that he is, indeed, Hindu even if his politics aren’t built on Hindutva.
This too is a “Delhi model” in a sense, a nationalist but non-Hindutva counter to the BJP’s ideology.
What next for AAP?
The bulk of the last five years for AAP involved in battles with the Centre, since as a Union Territory, the Delhi government did not have the final say on many policies. Kejriwal even tried to make full statehood for Delhi the key feature of his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, in which AAP ultimately came in third. So where do Kejriwal and the “Delhi model” go next? First, in the Capital itself it will now have to draw up a plan to build on its success, without getting mired in the complacency that sometimes comes with being in power for a long time.Beyond Delhi, the territory is more tricky. Though many may want to see Kejriwal take a bigger national role and AAP take its ‘Delhi model’ elsehwere, the political portion of the party’s success – reliant as it is on an urban polity with no domineering identity politics – is hard to replicate.
BJP loses another state election
The Delhi result offers further proof of a very unusual feature of Indian elections at the moment. The BJP completely dominates the national stage, winning Parliamentary majorities by huge margins in 2014 and 2019. In many states, it got more than 50% of the vote share. In Delhi, it pulled in 56% in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Yet its record at the state level has been poor. The party has not had an emphatic victory in state assembly elections since the Uttar Pradesh win in 2017. BJP leaders blame “local issues” every time, but the trend is hard to ignore.
Bihar, where elections are due later this year, may well upend this formulation – but the AAP result reinforces the notion that the saffron party has its vulnerabilities.
Not a ‘victory’ for Shaheen Bagh
Kejriwal has both spoken out against the Citizenship Act amendments, but also called on the BJP to evict the people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, a site that has become emblematic of the opposition to the legislation that many around the country see as being a tool to harass Indian Muslims.
This is a complex dichotomy, borne out of the fact that AAP noticed how more than 50% of voters picked BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and calculated that they would need to draw in supporters of the Hindutva party at the state level if they were to win this election.
The high-pitched anti-Shaheen Bagh campaign launched by the BJP managed to turn a large section of the public against the protesters. This did not turn the electoral tide only because AAP worked hard not to be identified with the demonstrators.
Supriya Sharma’s report from the capital demonstrates this most clearly. AAP may have won the match, but the ground is owned by the BJP.
Congress has done it again
Between 1998 and 2013, the Congress was in charge of Delhi, as Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit notched up three terms in power. On Tuesday, it will most certainly end the day with zero seats and a vote share of less than 5%.
This is a remarkable turn of events, but not one without precedent. Despite being pummeled in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the Congress had gone decades out of power, it still managed to retain its ideological space because its opponent was the BJP.
In states where another centrist party takes its space, however, the Congress decline is usually immediate and irrevocable. Unless the AAP somehow shoots itself in the foot, history would suggest that the Congress will no longer be a player in the capital.
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