Deconstructing Delhi State Election Results

The recent state election in the Indian state of Delhi declared Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) victorious with a land-slide victory. The party conveniently secured 62 seats in the Delhi state assembly against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which struggled to secure merely eight seats and the Congress Party ended up with no seats at all. The Delhi state election was a much-awaited political affair in India which was expected to reveal the validation of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 by the citizens. BJP’s defeat against AAP, which has secured a third term now, is being celebrated as Delhiites’ rejection of communal politics in many opposition circles within India. However, the election was certainly a much more intricate affair, carrying deeper concomitants to it, apart from people’s rejection of BJP’s ideology.

The 2020 election was the first public polling post the amendment in Indian Citizenship Act followed by country-wide mass protests. The election was conducted amidst Shaheen Bagh sit-in, where Indian women, pre-dominantly from Muslim community, have staged protests against the exclusionary nature of CAA for more than two months now.

The AAP, under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal sought to amass political support by building around its developmental works in the state during its tenure. BJP’s election campaign, on the other hand, was yet another manifestation of an anti-Muslim rhetoric, revolving around the demonization of Shaheen Bagh protestors, while Shaheen Bagh became a catchy sight. The peaceful citizens, in their rejection of CAA, chanted India’s national anthem, held interfaith prayers, and vowed to live in a safe and secular India. BJP’s top-notch political leadership huddled its followers in exasperation against the contending parties.

The political party is said to having committed to “Politics of Work” exclusively to win the hearts and minds of Delhiites. AAP’s middle-class man friendly policies during its earlier administrations became a key element ascending it to power corridors of Delhi state.

BJP chose to execute an extensive election campaign. Its campaign was primarily led by Amit Shah, India’s Minister of Home Affairs. Other members of BJP leadership included Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh amongst others. The party conducted more than 6,500 meetings and road shows along with a door-to-door campaign. BJP dubbed the election as a “battle of ideologies,” reproving AAP and Indian National Congress as supporters of Shaheen Bagh protestors.

Hate speech against minorities, more specifically Indian Muslims touched new highs. Shaheen Bagh protesters were declared as rapists and murderers by Parvesh Verma, BJP’s Member of Parliament. Anurag Thakur, India’s Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs led an election rally, chanting slogan “shoot the traitors” following which, three incidents of Hindu nationalists opening fire on Shaheen Bagh protestors and around Jamia Millia Islamia (National Islamic University) were recorded. So much so, the protestors were accused of drawing funds from neighbouring Pakistan with the support of Kejriwal.

Delhi’s 2015-16 state budget allotted INR6,208 crore to the state-led education sector.

On the contrary, Kejriwal’s camp walked a tightrope between extreme Hindu nationalists and protesting minorities, refraining from making any religiously motivated extremist commentaries. AAP’s election campaign was a display of the party’s report card, showcasing its pro-poor policies. However, capitalising on the religious-nationalist sentiment that currently prevails in India, Kejriwal maintained due physical and political distance from the protesting minorities.

Owing to AAP’s popularity in 2015 state election followed by its performance in the interests of middle-class Delhiite masses, many in India were already contemplating AAP’s victory against BJP as a probable scenario.

The model adopted by AAP incorporated a mix of different elements: pitching Kejriwal as leader of the common man, ascription to nationalist and religious sentiments, and passivity towards anti-Hindutva aspects. This enabled AAP in targeting all vote banks equally. To secure Hindu voters, AAP calculatedly maintained its due physical and political distance from Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia protests.

The magnitude of AAP’s allocation to health sector is around 14 per cent while on an average, different Indian states allocate not more than three per cent to five per cent of state budget to this particular sector.

The political party is said to having committed to “Politics of Work” exclusively to win the hearts and minds of Delhiites. AAP’s middle-class man friendly policies during its earlier administrations became a key element ascending it to power corridors of Delhi state. AAP’s overarching electoral strategy has always been the provision of electricity and water at affordable rates, primarily via subsidisation. During the 2015 election, AAP had presented a 70-point election manifesto, which is suggested to having not met even partially.

However, the party has taken several steps for the welfare of general public over its two terms in administration. Since 2014, AAP has been providing subsidy that slashes electricity bills by 50 per cent if the consumption falls below 400 units, free  20,000 litres water supply monthly, coupled with imposition of penalties on Distribution Companies for unscheduled power outages. Apart from this, the party heavily focused on provision of education to children coming from different financial backgrounds. Delhi’s 2015-16 state budget allotted INR6,208 crore to the state-led education sector. The education budget has risen since then. The party also introduced training programmes for school teachers, infrastructural developments, and curriculum enhancement initiatives. In terms of healthcare facilities, AAP allocated INR7,485 crore to its 2019-20 health budget, setting up around 450 mohalla (neighbourhood) clinics and 25 polyclinics. The magnitude of AAP’s allocation to health sector is around 14 per cent while on an average, different Indian states allocate not more than three per cent to five per cent of state budget to this particular sector. The party also provides free commuter services to women via bus service.

In the case of state-level elections, BJP’s defeat in Delhi comes as sixth consecutive defeat in past two years. This suggests that while BJP, under PM Modi has a clout that works well for national election, its state-level administrative performance is not viable enough across several Indian states.

The key deficiency that BJP’s campaign was fraught with lied in the absence of a strong chief ministerial candidate. Additionally, BJP ignored Delhi’s household names like Harsh Vardhan and Vijay Goyal for electoral campaigning. BJP’s CM office candidate Manoj Tiwari’s political and administrative vitae fell far short of Kejriwal’s and therefore provided an easy track to AAP towards the reins of Delhi. Moreover, all that BJP could bring to the table for state-level election campaign was national issues like abrogation of Article 370 from Indian constitution which erased the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, CAA and national-level economic policies. In the case of state-level elections, BJP’s defeat in Delhi comes as sixth consecutive defeat in past two years. This suggests that while BJP, under PM Modi has a clout that works well for national election, its state-level administrative performance is not viable enough across several Indian states.

Within Indian leftist circles, AAP’s victory is being viewed as the rejection of BJP’s outrageously exclusionary state policies. The stance can be contested on various grounds. To say the least, while BJP has lost the election, it has successfully set rules of the game for the rest of the political parties. As much as AAP’s victory asserts that the “politics of work” prevails in Delhi, AAP’s election campaign was a vehement projection of its politically-motivated compliance with Hindutva ideologues. Also, Congress’ poor electoral performance in the latest few elections delineates that a hard-liner anti-BJP narrative can do no good to the party. Extremist Hindutva sentiments in India are there to stay, and are forcing other political parties to mould their ideological inclinations accordingly so as to meet their desired ends. More so, BJP’s defeat in Delhi election does not signal a weak BJP in the upcoming 2024 general election. BJP’s religious-nationalist agenda sells well in India’s highly polarised society, with the recent Delhi riots being another manifestation of receding secular ideals in India. Likewise, Kejriwal’s chief-ministership in Delhi does not secure him the chances of premiership in near future. While the AAP has a long way to go in terms of seeping into political apparatus across India, for BJP, centre-staging national issues in general election bring about easy and desired results.

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She is a graduate of International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad.

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