Politics in Delhi, since the late Sheila Dikshit became its chief minister in 1998 and ran the show for three consecutive terms, has essentially turned out to be about managing poor and middle class expectations of making day-to-day life easier in a mega-city. If the Congress leader built flyovers and provided a more modern transport network, AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal carried on that brand of work with élan, with a focus on poorer classes.
This is the backdrop to the telling defeats of both the Congress and the BJP recently, including in the just-held Assembly polls. The BJP badly lost in seat terms although it has a core RSS vote of about one-third of all voters, and had a carpet-bombing campaign. Its agenda of majoritarian nationalism proved of no avail. The party hasn’t won a state poll since 1993. The Congress’ contra-RSS nationalism paid no dividends either. The voters’ message was clear: national issues out, only city issues please. Delhi is now a vast camp of especially poor migrants.
In the 2015 Delhi polls, the Congress polled nine per cent of the vote, winning zero seats, and this year it polled four per cent and won no seat. The party is organisationally far weaker than in Sheila Dikshit’s time, although she hadn’t retained her own seat in 2013.
For this year’s election, the party leadership took an informal decision to keep a very low-profile electoral presence. It did not field stronger candidates in order not to cut into AAP votes and benefit the BJP. The general impression was that the AAP would do well. But if the Congress had worked harder, it is still unlikely to have done too well and may have helped the BJP if its vote percentage were higher but not high enough to bag seats. That was the dilemma.
The Congress has weakened nationally but will likely still surprise the AAP in the Lok Sabha polls in Delhi. Over-reading Delhi polls can have its pitfalls....