The Delhi Assembly election, to be held on Saturday, has drawn unusual national attention. Ordinarily, a Union territory poll has little outside interest. The heightened focus on how Delhi might vote is primarily due to the fact that it is likely to be the first test of popular endorsement of the controversial CAA, the recently passed citizenship law that has raised passions across India.
Interestingly, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by energetic chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, hoping to win a second term, has done its best to steer clear of the CAA and is going to the people on the strength of its governmental record alone, in addressing people’s needs in a mega-city — highlighting issues like health, education, electricity, water, the state of roads and public transport.
Earlier, by backing the NDA government’s move to downgrade Kashmir’s constitutional status, the AAP signalled to the BJP’s support base that it too could be “nationalist”.
While it’s seldom easy to call an election, the BJP seems to have become the principal challenger to the AAP’s perceived hegemony. Not unexpectedly, the BJP has once again underscored “nationalism” — not in the sense that every Indian may be considered a nationalist and patriot, but in the narrower sense of majority community “nationalism”, which is in search of “the other” within society — as its main plank. It has done this by questioning the nationalistic credentials of the Shaheen Bagh protesters, who have made waves through their doggedness and for the peaceful route they have chosen.
The AAP is a relatively new phenomenon in Delhi. Traditionally, in voting behaviour terms the national capital was split between the Congress and the RSS-inspired Jan Sangh (now BJP).
Late CM Sheila Dikshit of the Congress is widely given credit for transforming Delhi’s infrastructure. For a several reasons, the Congress was unable to wrestle away the challenge from the AAP, which walked away with Congress’ social base to a large extent, especially among the poor and the Muslim minority.
The BJP, on the whole, has successfully retained its roughly one-third voteshare. But it does well in winning seats when it can add a section of the floating vote to this core support stratum. This hasn’t happened for some time.
So this time the party is taking no chances. It roped in 200 MPs and 11 chief ministers for 10,000 locality-level meetings it planned to “recapture” Delhi. This is a carpet-bombing effort. The stakes seem especially high due to the CAA factor. If the party has to sit it out again, it will have gone 20 years without being in office in Delhi.
That can do all sorts of things to the party’s morale and faith in its leadership. In sharp contrast to the BJP, the Congress has made itself scarce in this election, concentrating on just a few seats, where micro-level factors may seem favourable.
Perhaps the party is conscious that in a triangular fight, the votes it gets will eventually help the BJP’s cause....