Having registered a stunning victory, Arvind Kejriwal along with six ministers took the oath for the third time as Delhi chief minister at Delhi’s historic Ramlila Maidan on Sunday. This victory in itself was remarkable, with 62 of the Assembly’s 70 seats, but what was even more remarkable was that the AAP was up against an army of very experienced BJP leaders who campaigned relentlessly against the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, some of whom engaged in a very shrill and negative campaign. But the AAP sailed against all odds to victory. The message by Mr Kejriwal in his public address after the oath made this victory far more remarkable. Mr Kejriwal said that irrespective of who voted for him or not, he considered everyone as “part of his family” and promised to work for all the people of Delhi. He added he “forgives his opponents for their remarks against him”, and wanted take everyone along with him. He also sought the “blessings” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
There was also a clear signal that he wanted to expand the AAP beyond Delhi. In his speech, he urged people to “call your villages and tell them that their son has become the chief minister, and there is no need to worry”. After all, he had taken the oath as Delhi’s CM, so why should he ask people to call their family members in villages? This was a clear indication he would try to reach out to people beyond the geographical boundaries of Delhi.
However, for the AAP, expanding the party beyond Delhi at this juncture would be a tall order. The sweeping victory in Delhi does not give any indication of the rising popularity of the AAP or Arvind Kejriwal in other states. Even in Delhi, this victory should only be seen as voters wanting Mr Kejriwal to be Delhi’s chief minister. There is no indication if voters would express the same political choice if there was a Lok Sabha election soon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi still remains a very popular leader with the people of Delhi when it comes to heading the government at the Centre. The verdict of four elections — the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the 2015 and 2020 Assembly elections — are clear evidence of the voters of Delhi expressing a spilt verdict. While in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP managed to win all seven Lok Sabha seats and cornered a huge chunk of votes, the same voters voted for the AAP in the 2015 and 2020 Assembly elections in a big way. During the 2015 Assembly elections, the AAP won 67 seats and polled 54 per cent votes while in 2020 it won 62 seats and polled 53.5 per cent votes. The CSDS survey also indicated that one-third of those who voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls switched their vote to the AAP in 2020.
Mr Kejriwal, in his Ramlila address, seemed somewhat on the defensive over the charge that he had only won because of the freebies. He said: “I am accused of distributing freebies. But all good things in the world like a mother’s love and a father’s blessings are free. Delhi loves Kejriwal. I love Delhi. This love is for free”. It is true that the freebies handed out by the Kejriwal government contributed to this massive mandate, but this election remained largely focused on the development work done by the AAP government in the past five years. The CSDS governance study conducted in early December 2019 captured the mood of the people of Delhi regarding the AAP government’s work in the fields of education and health — and indicated widespread approval of the AAP’s work. Though Delhi witnessed an acerbic campaign waged by the BJP on the basis of emotive and national issues, the voter sentiment that the CSDS survey had captured in early December did not change much. This was because voters saw the election mainly as a question of Delhi’s governance. In this sense, the victory of the AAP was clearly a vote for performance on the ground. The water, electricity, education and healthcare record of the government was clearly its USP. The CSDS survey indicated that three of every five of those who traditionally backed the BJP said they favoured a AAP victory due to the government’s performance record. This mattered a lot for the “pro-incumbency” sentiment in favour of the AAP.
By asking the people of Delhi to convey to friends and relatives in their villages that their “son” had become the chief minister, Mr Kejriwal was trying to send out the message that the people of Delhi had rejected BJP leaders’ equating Arvind Kejriwal as a “terrorist”. The Delhi elections remained focused around the face of Mr Kejriwal. During his campaign, he went to the extent of saying “vote for me only if you consider me as your son, don’t vote for me if you consider me as a terrorist”. The AAP benefited from the fact that it had Mr Kejriwal’s “face” at the head of its campaign. The BJP, on the other hand, had no such credible, visible face. It once again depended on the charisma and charm of its top national leaders — mainly Prime Minister Modi. In a state poll, this clearly worked in favour of the AAP as almost two-fifths of those satisfied with the Modi government’s performance voted for the AAP. Mr Modi remains very popular with Delhi’s voters; yet they chose Mr Kejriwal over Mr Modi mainly because
they were conscious that this was a question of who would head the state government.
The BJP’s last-minute efforts to polarise voters and win back the support of those who voted for it in the Lok Sabha polls six months ago didn’t cut much ice. While possibly it did contribute to the BJP’s rise in voteshare compared to the last Assembly election, it was not sufficient to reduce the wide gap that had developed between the BJP and AAP. At the end of the day, governance and service delivery appeared to trump the politics of emotive appeals and divisiveness. Mr Kejriwal in his address did say that the elections were over, and whether you had voted for the AAP or not, you are a part of my family — clearly trying to send out a positive message of his commitment to work for all the people of Delhi as he begins his third innings in government.