Around 1.5 crore voters of Delhi will elect their next government on February 8. The incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hopes to return to power on Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s appeal and performance of the government. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity to stage a comeback after 22 years. And, the Congress wishes to make an impact in the Delhi Assembly election that keeps the BJP out of power even if it means a second chance to its tormentor Arvind Kejriwal.
The AAP is in the fray with the slogan of “Kejriwal once more” in Delhi. The Delhi Assembly election is aa question of existence for the Aam Aadmi Party and relevance of Brand Kejriwal. Delhi is the only state where the AAP is in power.
To lose Delhi Assembly election, Kejriwal’s AAP will have to perform at nearly half of its 2015 show. Back then the party had won 67 of 70 seats. It lost one in the bypoll later. This time around, Kerjiwal has set a target of “67 paar” (winning more than 67 seats). This seems too ambitious given there is no palpable pro-incumbency wave in Delhi.
If the AAP loses power in Delhi Assembly election, this will push Kejriwal to the margins of Indian politics. Kejriwal faces the risk of being consigned to political dustbin as one-time-wonder if he fails to bring the AAP back to power in Delhi.
The only state outside Delhi where the AAP has some presence of note is Punjab, where infighting is troubling the party leadership in Delhi. It has 19 MLAs in Punjab and just one Lok Sabha MP. In 2014, it had four Lok Sabha MPs from Punjab.
A loss for Kejriwal or his party in Delhi Assembly election might actually be an epitaph for the AAP as far as any national role in politics is concerned.
Delhi has been a sour grape for the BJP, which has dominated the Lok Sabha elections here but falters in assembly polls. Despite a whirlwind of Modi wave in 2013-19, the BJP failed to win 2013 Delhi Assembly election, when it emerged as the single-largest party, and 2015 Delhi polls, when it finished a distant second with only three MLAs in the 70-member house. The rest were all AAP members.
The BJP depends heavily on PM Modi to return to power in the national capital. But this time, the BJP has mixed Modi mascot with local politics. It is focusing on local issues to counter the Kejriwal government’s claim of achievements. The BJP-led central government is playing the perfect political role.
The Centre announced regularization of Delhi’s unauthorised colonies, where Kejriwal had promised in 2015 to provide piped water. The Centre’s move just on the eve of Delhi Assembly election seems to be a copy of the Congress’s 2008 move, when then ruling party at the Centre had distributed ownership certificates to residents of unauthorised colonies. The Congress had retained power then. The BJP hopes to make a comeback.
But ultimately, it is the image of PM Modi that is at the stake for the BJP, which has declared that it will contest the Delhi Assembly election in his name. The BJP goes into the Delhi polls without a declared chief ministerial candidate. This has prompted the AAP to throw a jab at the BJP with a poser: Kejrival versus who? This has been the BJP’s election tactic, Modi vs who?
The BJP had projected VK Malhotra as CM candidate in 2008, Harsh Vardhan in 2013 and Kiran Bedi in 2015. They all failed to end BJP’s exile from power in Delhi. If the BJP fails to end its exile in Delhi, Brand Modi will be hit adversely, particularly at a time when Modi government’s pet exercises – revoking Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the Citizenship Amendment Act and pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) – are being met with stiff resistance on the streets.
Though Sonia Gandhi is the Congress president but Delhi Assembly election will be a test for Rahul Gandhi, who had invested lot of time and energy in fixing (or, fanning, according to some) the party’s problems.
The Congress goes into the Delhi Assembly election with an unenviable track record. The Congress did not win a single seat in Delhi in 2014 Lok Sabha election, 2015 Delhi Assembly election and 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Ajay Maken was his choice for the Delhi Congress’s leadership after 2015 electoral loss. Following differences over alliance with the AAP for 2019 Lok Sabha election, he had resigned in January last year. Rahul Gandhi brought trusted Sheila Dikshit to keep the house in order. A three-time Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dikshit did try to salvage the Congress in the national capital.
The Congress pushed the AAP to third place in five of seven Lok Sabha seats. The Congress too improved its vote share in Delhi over 22 per cent, bettering the votes polled by the AAP by some 18 percentage point. But Sheila Dikshit death last year, many believe in the party, has affected the Congress’s prospects in Delhi Assembly election.
Delhi Congress chief Subhash Chopra and campaign committee chairman Kirti Azad – the former BJP MP – have expressed confidence of coming back to power in Delhi. But it appears to be a tall claim. Since both Chopra and Azad are said to be Rahul Gandhi’s choice for the positions they hold in Delhi Congress, another electoral drubbing would mark a serious dent on his political image.
On the brighter side, the Congress has only to gain in Delhi Assembly election. A smart election strategy may help the Congress exploit double anti-incumbency in Delhi – against the Modi government as well as the Kejriwal government. It depends on how well the Congress responds on the ground and how strongly the BJP and the AAP hold on to their strengths in building narrative for Delhi Assembly election.