The incumbent Aam Aadmi Party, led by bureaucrat-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal, is the party to beat once again, as various exit polls showed. Founded only in 2012, the outfit had won nearly all seats – 67 out of 70 – in the 2015 Assembly elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which won the other three seats and gained one more in a bye-election, tried to put up an aggressive fight this time.
The Congress, whose 15-year-long rule AAP first displaced in 2013, appears to be a minor player yet again.
Neither the BJP nor the Congress named any chief ministerial candidate. They also brought in allies from other states to contest on some seats – the BJP left three constituencies for the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti Party, while the Congress left four for the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Exit polls predict comfortable majority for AAP, BJP expected to improve tally
Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister, contested the election from New Delhi constituency against the BJP’s Yuva Morcha President Sunil Yadav and Congress leader Romesh Sabharwal. Kejriwal’s deputy, Manish Sisodia, was the candidate from Patparganj.
Atishi, said to have had a significant role in the education reforms in Delhi, is the AAP candidate from Kalkaji. She is one of just 24 women fielded by the three main parties combined. Last year, she had lost the Lok Sabha election in East Delhi. AAP candidate Raghav Chadha, who is fighting from Rajinder Nagar, and Dilip Pandey, the candidate from Timarpur, had also contested the Lok Sabha polls and lost.
Alka Lamba, a former Aam Aadmi Party leader who switched to Congress in October, was fielded from the Chandni Chowk seat. Former Aam Aadmi Party leader Kapil Mishra, who has joined the BJP, contested from Model Town.
Soon after voting ended on Saturday, most major exit polls predicted a comfortable majority for the Aam Aadmi Party. The Times Now-IPSOS survey predicted 44 seats for Kejriwal’s party, while the BJP was predicted to win 26. According to ABP News-C Voter, the AAP may win 49 to 63 seats and the BJP anything between five and 19 seats.
A survey by Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat gave the ruling party 48 to 61 seats, and the BJP nine to 21 constituencies. The TV9 Bharatvarsh-Cicero poll predicted 54 seats for Kejriwal’s party, and 15 for the saffron outfit. Even more optimistic for the Aam Aadmi Party was the exit poll by India Today-Axis, which predicted 59 to 68 seats.
An average of all the exit polls, put together by news channel NDTV, gave 56 seats to the AAP and 14 constituencies to the BJP. All the exit polls predicted another dismal outcome for the Congress.
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The campaign period coincided with nationwide protests against controversial amendments to the Citizenship Act. Delhi has been one of the major protest sites since the beginning, with violence being reported during protests and police action in some localities. This gave fodder to the BJP’s campaign, which got increasingly divisive and bitter towards the end, while the Aam Aadmi Party highlighted its work over the last five years to fix state schools and healthcare.
For much of December and January, the campaigns involved mild political blame game – the BJP blamed the Congress and the AAP for violence, while AAP insisted that the BJP was responsible since it controlled the Delhi Police. However, the campaign took a new turn when on January 23, the Aam Aadmi Party first expressed support for the protestors at Shaheen Bagh, which has become an epicentre for the protests and mainly features women. The party had so far avoided doing so.
Hours after Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia made his remark, BJP leader Kapil Mishra referred to the elections as an “India vs Pakistan” match – a remark that earned him a two-day campaigning ban from the Election Commission.
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While the Aam Aadmi Party continued to make its achievements the agenda of its campaign, the BJP now began referring to the Shaheen Bagh protests more often. The saffron party portrayed the elections as a referendum on the protests. A Union minister exhorted a crowd at a rally to shout “shoot the traitors”, while a BJP MP called Kejriwal a “terrorist” and claimed the Shaheen Bagh protestors would rape and murder women.
The BJP claimed that the AAP’s position on the citizenship law was a threat to national security. The party even deployed many of its MPs and other states’ chief ministers to campaign in Delhi. A poor show in the elections will be another blow to the BJP after it lost power in Maharashtra late last year.
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The Congress’s campaign rested on its past glory of Sheila Dikshit’s years. The party reminded voters of the journey of development that was a key feature of Dikshit’s time as chief minister. However, the party lacked any major face and agenda for its campaign.
The Aam Aadmi Party has promised in its manifesto that it will pilot 24x7 markets in Delhi, extend free travel for women in public buses to students as well, build pucca houses for slum dwellers, and introduce a patriotism curriculum in schools.
The BJP has promised to spend Rs 10,000 crore on the city’s infrastructure. It said it would offer flour at Rs 2 per kg to the poor if voted to power. A development board for regularisation of societies will also be a prime focus, the party said. The saffron party has promised a “permanent solution” to the sealing drive in the Delhi for the benefit of local businesses and to turn lease hold property of traders into freehold within a year of coming into power.
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The Congress promised to challenge the Citizenship Amendment Act in the Supreme Court and demand the Centre to withdraw the law. The party has also promised to provide an unemployment allowance of Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,500 per month, 300 units of free electricity per month, and other cashback schemes for water consumers.
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But whatever sops the three parties promise, the key answer that Delhi will deliver on Tuesday is to this question: can an agenda built on education and health survive against the nationalism wind consistently employed by the BJP? Does a political party that set out as an alternative have enough to retain power with unprecedented numbers a second time in a row?