New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party’s broom swept rivals away in the 2020 Delhi Assembly elections in a near repeat of its stunning performance from five years ago as it mopped up 62 of the total 70 seats in results declared on Tuesday to net a third term for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Despite a demagogic campaign and a galaxy of star politicians canvassing for it, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bagged only eight constituencies, a minor improvement on its 2015 tally of three. The Congress, once more, was reduced to nought.
Before holding a triumphant roadshow to the Hanuman Mandir in the heart of the capital, Kejriwal termed it a victory for the entire country and the birth of the “politics of work”. With a wide smile on his face as several party colleagues stood alongside on a balcony at the AAP headquarters, the 51-year-old former bureaucrat and anti-corruption activist said, “Dilliwaalon… I love you,” prompting roars of approval from scores of cadres and supporters gathered below.
“Today is Tuesday, Hanuman ji’s day. Hanuman ji has showered Delhi with blessings,” said Kejriwal, who was taunted by BJP leaders and supporters on social media after he recited verses from the Hanuman Chalisa during a television news show. Observers saw it as an attempt by the AAP chief to deflate the saffron party’s attempts to portray itself as the champion of Hinduism.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia from Patparganj as well as popular party face and educationist Atishi from Kalkaji overcame initial jitters to win their seats in white-knuckle contests.
The results brought to a close a vitriolic and fiercely fought election that was pocked with communally charged statements, personal attacks and disinformation campaigns.
The BJP, led by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, used the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and resentment against related protests in Delhi’s Muslim-dominated Shaheen Bagh locality as its primary canvassing theme, backed by its larger ‘nationalism’ plank and attempts at consolidation of Hindu votes in its favour. AAP’s campaign recipe had performance and delivery on basic services like education and healthcare as key ingredients, its populist measures such as cheap electricity and water as the cherry on top, with a sprinkling of soft Hindutva, analysts say.
“The two crore families of Delhi have now said that their son Arvind Kejriwal is not a terrorist but a staunch nationalist. I salute the people of Delhi for giving AAP such a massive mandate,” AAP leader Sanjay Singh said in a tweet. He was referring to remarks made at a poll rally by BJP MP Parvesh Verma who had called Kejriwal a “terrorist” while alleging that he was supporting the anti-CAA protesters at Shaheen Bagh – most of them Muslim women – whom the Lok Sabha member had on another occasion termed “rapists and murderers”.
The AAP’s sweeping victory comes about eight months after it was decimated in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls where it drew a blank while the BJP picked up all the seven seats in Delhi.
Political observers say the BJP was hamstrung this time by a lack of credible leadership in the state unit and the failure to put up a chief ministerial face who could challenge Kejriwal. Also, local issues trumped national themes, and AAP’s “freebies” as well as perceived performance in sprucing up government schools and strengthening the capital’s primary healthcare system with its mohalla clinics worked in the incumbent’s favour, they maintain.
“The national capital must have given its mandate after careful thinking. Our vote percentage has increased from 32% to around 38%,” said BJP’s Delhi unit chief Manoj Tiwari, who was viewed as a possible chief ministerial candidate in case his party won. “We indulge in the politics of development and not in the politics of hatred. We’re against the roadblock in Shaheen Bagh as we were earlier.”
The outcome is likely to have a bearing on upcoming polls – Bihar later this year and West Bengal in mid-2021 – analysts say, and the BJP may have to focus more on local issues and putting up state leaders who inspire confidence rather than banking only on national narratives and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. The results mean the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has lost power in six states in the last two years and now has governments in 16. The NDA holds the reins of Bihar while it faces a tough challenge against the ruling Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee in Bengal.
AAP had buried rivals under a landslide in the 2015 Delhi elections, winning 67 of the 70 Assembly seats on offer. The BJP had bagged three while the Congress failed to open its account.
While Kejriwal was his party’s star campaigner for the 2020 Assembly polls, Modi, Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath were among those who held rallies for the BJP. The Congress was listless in the run-up to the February 8 elections and appeared to be still recovering from the death of its three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit last year, though party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi campaigned in some areas.
As its victory became apparent, AAP gave hints of taking its politics national. Addressing volunteers, the party’s Delhi chief Gopal Rai said the city gave votes to love and defeated hate. “Baat nikli hai toh dur talak jaigi (We will go a long way),” he said, adding this “politics of change” will not just be limited to the national capital.
Analysts say AAP could be eyeing Punjab and Goa where it has significant support before considering a plunge in the 2024 parliamentary polls. The party had fielded 434 candidates in the 2014 general elections but managed to win just four, all of them in Punjab. It contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in 40 constituencies, mainly from Delhi, Goa and Punjab, bagging just one seat. It has also tried its luck in assembly elections of Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra and Haryana but without any notable success.
(With agency inputs)