The BJP’s victory chariot which has advanced with unprecedented success in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu-Kashmir and Jharkhand seems to have stalled somewhat on coming to Delhi. That is not because the shine of Narendra Modi’s charismatic personality has started dimming. It is because a big section of Delhi’s population even today admires Arvind Kejriwal. That is why the Delhi Assembly elections may prove to be no less than an ordeal by fire for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). For Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party too, whose Government in Delhi lasted just 49 days and then suffered a huge defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, these Assembly elections are a question of life and death…
High voltage drama began almost as soon as the Delhi Assembly elections were announced, and the election became like a suspense thriller. Who will win the election, who will form the Government? Obviously, this will be known only after the counting of votes, but a neck to neck fight in virtually every seat has added to the suspense. The reason for this is that every party, be it the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party and even independent candidates have important roles cut out, everybody has a significance — some will win, some will facilitate a win, some will drown someone else’s boat.
The interesting thing is that Delhi is not even a full fledged State. The Chief Minister of Delhi has powers only like those of a mayor of some big city.Delhi’s Government doesn’t even have enough authority to transfer a top officer. To ‘remove’ a Police Inspector, the Chief Minister has to go on a hunger strike. But the election environment has been made such as if the whole country is going in for elections. On TV, there is not just publicity, but on every channel’s Prime Time these elections are figuring in a big way. On FM radio, every five minutes promos are heard. In newspapers and magazines there are plenty of articles. Action on the internet is even more feverish. In the social media it seems as if apart from Delhi elections, nothing else is happening in the world. There are two basic reasons for this all round buzz. One, that this election has become a question of prestige for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and two, that for the Aam Aadmi Party this election has become a fight for its very existence.
In Delhi the Aam Aadmi Party began campaigning first. When there weren’t even election murmurs in other parties, the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign had started in Delhi. Through programs like Delhi Dialogue and Mohalla Sabha, the work of connecting with public was in full swing very early. Even before the announcement of the elections, the party had declared the names of all 70 candidates. Along with this, numerous hoardings were put up and Kejriwal was campaigning on radio. Obviously, the Aam Aadmi Party took a very early lead. This time, Kejriwal, sidelining issues like Jan-Lokpal and Swaraj, is fighting the election on the issues of free electricity and free water. The party’s stress on the issue of corruption is also less than it was in the last election. On the issue of women’s safety, the party is busy trying to woo women. The party’s campaign, Kejriwal’s language and the style of the party spokespersons are all looking more mature than in the last elections. Apart from this, the party is trying to give the message that during its 49 days in power, Kejriwal fulfilled his promises. Praising his AAP Government, Kejriwal is claiming that during its short tenure corruption had declined in Delhi. The strategy of challenging the Opposition by making allegation is also proving to be beneficial for the Aam Aadmi Party.
During the last Assembly elections the Aam Aadmi Party had made electricity bills a big issue. The party believes that the electricity meters in Delhirun too fast. The Aam Aadmi Party got a lot of support on this issue in the last election. This time, Kejriwal has levelled allegations of supplying and installing electricity meters in Delhi on Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay and Chief Secretary Ashish Sood. Kejriwal wants to prove that it is the BJP that installed faulty, fast running meters in Delhi. This issue became so hot that Satish Upadhyay complained against Kejriwal to the Election Commission and filed a defamation case in court. The truth is that Kejriwal’s allegation is a half truth and half lie. Out of the six companies which Kejriwal said were those of Satish Upadhyay and Ashish Sood, two don’t exist at all. These two non existent companies are the ones in which Kejriwal alleged ‘ the most business happened’. Even after the challenge was thrown, Kejriwal couldn’t produce any proof. The reality is that out of the six companies named, one company did business with Reliance’s power company in Delhi. Besides, Kejriwal, while talking about the companies of Satish Upadhyay and Ashish Sood doing business with power companies had not levelled any allegation of any manipulation or scam. But by raising the issue of electricity meters, he tried to corner the BJP and he was fairly successful in doing so.
By and large, Kejriwal’s magic seems to be continuing in Delhi. The support of slums, the low income group, especially autowallahs, street vendors and small shopkeepers for Kejriwal is intact, because they believe that during Kejriwal’s Government the police had stopped troubling them. They also believe that Kejriwal’s claim that during his 49 days Government bribery had reduced is correct. Kejriwal will definitely get the benefit of this. Moreover, the Muslims leaning towards the Aam Aadmi Party has also increased in Delhi. The reason for this is the declining dominance of the Congress. Muslims feel that in Delhi the Congress Party is incapable of halting the BJP’s victory chariot. They have confidence that Kejriwal can stump the BJP in Delhi which is why when it comes to tactical voting, Muslims will vote for Kejriwal in big numbers. In spite of such favourable factors the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory is not certain. There are many reasons for it. People are angry that the party quit the responsibility of running a Government in just 49 days and lured by the Lok Sabha elections, went on to Varanasi to challenge Modi. They feel that Kejriwal too, like leaders of other parties, is ambitious. One section feels that Kejriwal is a liar. They believe that retracting after making promises is Kejriwal’s habit. Kejriwal too has a clear idea of the public anger. He knows that there are allegation against him of being a deserter. This is the reason why, ever since he started campaigning, he has been going everywhere apologising and promising people that now he will not leave Delhi at any cost.
Kejriwal’s second biggest problem is that this time, thirty five leaders who had contested last time on the Aam Aadmi Party ticket didn’t get tickets this time. Workers are alleging that this time, the Aam Aadmi Party has selected the candidates without taking the suggestions of workers and public. They feel that this time Kejriwal has thought it more appropriate to give tickets to those candidates who have money. For Kejriwal and party
workers it is a matter of despair that old leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party are leaving the party and joining other parties. Workers associated with the party since the time of the Anna Movement are getting sidelined in the party. They are either sitting quietly at home or are campaigning against the party in their respective areas. In the last elections, workers of the Aam Aadmi Party wearing the distinctive white cap of the party used to be seen on the streets of Delhi, but this time party workers are not being seen on the streets. The reason for this is the atmosphere inside the party. Workers from other States joining in has also stopped, even though the party is continuously appealing to them to come to Delhi and participate in the election campaign.
In Delhi, the biggest asset of the Aam Aadmi Party is the face of Arvind Kejriwal. Before the previous Assembly election, Kejriwal’s image was that of a revolutionary, an honest leader transforming the system. After the 49 days rule and the humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, Kejriwal’s popularity has declined. Before the previous Assembly election, Kejriwal was a hero in the eyes of the middle class. Today, that popularity is no longer there. In spite of all this amongst the party’s supporters and voters he is an honest and trustworthy face. Therefore, the Aam Aadmi Party has prepared its strategy this time by realistically gauging its strengths and weaknesses. Kejriwal, learning a lesson from the Lok Sabha elections, was not in favour of a direct fight with Modi. That is why the party, at the very beginning of its campaign, gave out the argument that since Modi had become the Prime Minister of the country, Kejriwal’s competition would have to be with some leader of Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party put up posters in the whole of Delhi, campaigning that Kejriwal’s competition is with BJP’s Jagdish Mukhi in Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party gave
out this message with considerable success that in competition with Kejriwal, the BJP doesn’t have any face.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and its strategists understood very well that Delhi’s election is different from elections in other States. They realised that in Delhi, to combat the challenge of Kejriwal, they will have to present a face, a face which is stronger than Kejriwal in every sense. Another reason was that the Bharatiya Janata Party was not fully confident about the Delhi elections, which is why it re-thought the strategy of pitting Modi directly against Kejriwal. There was a danger here that if the BJP did not win a majority, then the Opposition will get a chance to raise questions on Modi’s credibility and in the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh elections, Modi will become ineffective. That is why the Bharatiya Janata Party fielded Kiran Bedi, who is way ahead of Kejriwal in terms of trustworthiness, popularity, experience and achievements. Both of them were in the Anna movement. Kiran Bedi is the first woman IPS officer of India, whereas Kejriwal was just an income tax officer. Kiran Bedi while remaining in service achieved a lot compared to which Kejriwal’s achievements are almost non-existent. With the coming of Kiran Bedi, the biggest benefit for the BJP will be on the issue of women’s security — the Aam Aadmi Party’s whole campaign will become ineffective on this issue. Significantly, after Kiran Bedi joined the BJP, many disgruntled leaders
and workers of the Aam Aadmi Party also joined the BJP.
Making Kiran Bedi the face of election is a master stroke by the BJP, because Kiran Bedi’s popularity will weigh heavily against Kejriwal in the election campaign. Kiran Bedi being given so much importance has angered a section of the BJP. However, the way in which Modi and Amit Shah have tightened their stranglehold on the party organisation after the Lok Sabha elections, no one dares to protest. The BJP didn’t have any leader in Delhi to offer a credible fight to Kejriwal, but in the party there were certainly more than five claimants for the Chief Minister’s post, which is why the possibility of internal sabotage cannot be ignored. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign began late. The party didn’t have a face, so the campaign was running in the name of Narendra Modi. The BJP got help of course because it had its own Government at the Centre. The Central Government, by regularising many unauthorised colonies in Delhi, tried to make people happy. With the Central Government giving permission to e-rikshaws to ply, the BJP also tried to steal from Kejriwal’s votebank. In addition, at the Ram Lila Ground rally, Modi showed many dreams to the people of Delhi. Modi gave an assurance that there would be no slums in Delhi by 2022. Assurances were also given to improve electricity and water facilities. Yet in spite of all this, the BJP felt uncertain about creating an entirely favourable tilt in its favour, and so the party changed its strategy.
In the meantime, the marginalised Congress took some good decisions. From the Congress, Ajay Maken was made the face of the election campaign. Along with him, the party fielded all the big leaders and veterans of Delhi. It is in accordance with this strategy that President Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter is fighting the election on a Congress ticket. The credibility of the Congress has been continuously declining since the last Assembly elections. Last time, the party could win only eight seats. People had started calling the Congress the ’Innova Party’. There is a very clear target before the Congress. For its survival in Delhi, the Congress will have to regain the confidence of people in the slums, and the Muslims. In the 2013 Assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party had made a solid dent in the Congress’s vote bank. Obviously, the stronger the Congress becomes, the more the problems for Kejriwal. If this time too the Congress is not able to cross the figure of ten, then for the coming many elections the political scene in Delhi will become the Aam Aadmi Party vs. the Bharatiya Janata Party. This time, the Bahujan Samaj Party too has decided to field its candidates in all 70 Assembly seats in Delhi. In the 2008 Assembly elections in Delhi, the Bahujan Samaj Party had got fourteen per cent votes, whereas in 2013 this figure shrank to 5 per cent. If this time the Bahujan Samaj Party’s performance becomes what it was in 2008, then Kejriwal will suffer a huge loss. Apart from all this, in the elections this time the role of rebel MLA’s of various parties is very important. Because of the neck to neck fight in every seat, rebel candidates will harm which party how much — the direct effect of this will definitely be seen on the final tally.
The results of the Delhi elections will determine the future of Kejriwal and the survival of the Aam Aadmi Party. If the party loses, then questions will be raised on Kejriwal’s leadership, and in the party, a situation of dissolution could arise. Many leaders who had jumped into politics by joining AAP will have no option left other than going back. Alongside, there will be aggressive questions in the country on movements against corruption. The dreams of people who participated in Anna’s movement will be shattered. It will be said about the Aam Aadmi Party that this was a failed experiment of a social movement. For Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party too, this election poses questions of prestige. If the BJP loses, then its effect will be felt on elections in important States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The results of the Delhi elections will be known soon enough. In the meantime, ‘sam-dam-dand–bhed’, i.e. all the stratagems of politics are being used. Every party is making populist promises, showing false dreams in trying to get votes.
A race is on in the campaigning to promise the maximum number of free things. No party has any plans for providing employment to the youth. In fact, it is surprising that no one is talking about employment. In Delhi, there is a large section of unorganised labour, but no party or leader is making even false promises of solving this section’s problem. Sometimes, one wonders whether leaders even have an idea of the problems of these poor labourers or not. What will happen to the land of villages in Delhi because of the new ordinance on land acquisition, even this is not included in the election issues. Delhi is home to a big population from other States. Exploitation in many ways happens to this migrants section, which is usually poor. It is also related with crime, but none of the aspiring Chief Ministers say even a sentence on these issues. All parties are making promises about solving the problem of electricity-water, but nobody is saying that the underground water in Delhi has become polluted. ForDelhi to become the best city of the world, it is important that the people living in it prosper, the youth have employment, there is provision for good education for everybody, everyone has a home, and there are economical hospitals for treatment. The regret is that in the run-up to the elections, it is mainly squabbling that is happening. All parties are the same in ignoring the concerns and problems of the common people.