AAP performance

Delhi Assembly election: A vote for performance

Print edition : February 28, 2020

A “Smart Class” at a Delhi government-run school in Lajpat Nagar on August 29, 2019. The AAP has transformed public education through several initiatives. Photo: PTI

A “Smart Class” at a Delhi government-run school in Lajpat Nagar on August 29, 2019. The AAP has transformed public education through several initiatives. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

A mohalla clinic in Mehrauli constituency. Primary health centres like this set up by the AAP government offer essential medicines and diagnostics free of cost. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

A woman passenger receives a pink ticket in a Delhi Transport Corporation bus on November 12, 2019. Women are eligible for free travel in buses using pink tickets. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The BJP improves its tally and vote share, but the AAP’s success in delivering basic services decides the issue.

THE decisive victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2020 Delhi Assembly election and the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the end of a high-octane vitriolic campaign signals a certain shift in the voting inclinations of the demographically diversified electorate of the National Capital Territory.

Polling to elect the seventh Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi was held in a single phase on February 8 and the results were declared on February 11. The AAP, seeking a re-election to the Assembly, contested all 70 seats and won 62, five fewer than what it had in the outgoing Assembly.

The sweep of the broom, the AAP’s symbol, left the national parties far behind in the race. Despite its polarising campaign, the BJP, which contested 67 seats, leaving three to its allies, could win only eight. Voters exercised a decisive preference for the AAP, which ran a personality-centric campaign while focussing on the government’s achievements. The face of the campaign was Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

While the BJP’s tally remained in single digits, the Congress drew a blank for the second time in the Assembly elections, the first being in 2015. In the 2013 Assembly election, which threw up a hung Assembly, the Congress won eight of the 70 seats and secured 25 per cent of the votes.

AAP retains vote share

The voter turnout was 62.59 per cent compared with 67.47 per cent in 2015. The low voter turnout and some delay by the Election Commission (E.C.) in announcing the final figure led to some initial speculation and trepidation. The difference in the vote share of the AAP between the two Assembly elections of 2015 and 2020 was less than one percentage point. It secured 54 per cent of the votes in 2015, winning 67 seats, compared with 53.57 per cent and 62 seats in 2020.

The BJP, which had three seats in the outgoing Assembly, added five to its tally. Its vote share went up from 32 per cent in 2015 to 38.51 per cent.

For the BJP, which won all seven Lok Sabha seats from Delhi in the 2019 general election and secured 57 per cent of the vote, followed by the Congress at second place with 22 per cent and the AAP a distant third with 18 per cent, the 2020 Assembly results were a major let-down.

Even BJP supporters, it appeared, did not vote for the party in the Assembly election despite the bombardment of rallies held by Home Minister Amit Shah and other leaders. “Modi at the Centre and Kejriwal at the State” was a refrain heard among several BJP voters and supporters.

The victory margins for the AAP have been undoubtedly lower, especially in the case of heavyweights like Education Minister Manish Sisodia.

While Kejriwal and other Cabinet members such as Gopal Rai and Satyendra Jain won with decent margins, Sisodia’s victory initially seemed doubtful. He eventually won by a little over 2,000 votes. Sisodia had openly declared his support for the Shaheen Bagh protests and had also spoken in favour of the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia.

On an average, the victory margins were reasonably high, around 21,000. The narrowest victory margin was 753 in Bijwasan constituency and the largest was 88,158 in Burari, both of which were won by the AAP. The closest contests were in East Delhi and South-West Delhi, followed by North-East Delhi.

Voters in Central Delhi and New Delhi districts seemed to have voted in good numbers for the AAP. The victory margins were the highest for the AAP in the Central Delhi district, which comprises Chandni Chowk, Ballimaran, Matia Mahal, Patel Nagar, Sadar Bazar, Karol Bagh (S.C.) and Moti Nagar constituencies.

In all the seats the contest was between the AAP and the BJP. The battle was so bipolar and the voting pattern so decisive that 63 of the 68 Congress candidates forfeited their deposits. The Congress’ alliance partner, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which contested four seats, fared no better.

Big names in the Congress such as Arvinder Singh Lovely, Alka Lamba, Krishna Tirath, Haroon Yusuf and Parvez Hashmi were among those who lost. Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee chief Subhash Chopra, whose daughter was also a candidate, resigned from his post, taking responsibility for the debacle. For a party that had ruled Delhi uninterruptedly for 15 years, this was a major setback.

Bipolar contest

A senior Congress MP, speaking to a news agency, said that the party had “sacrificed” its prospects to keep the BJP out. It was not clear whether it was a conscious decision, but the half-hearted campaigning by local party leaders indicated that the Congress had given up the battle even before it began.

Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, also indicated to the media that the Congress was not serious about the election and that the contest was bipolar. Yet, the Congress and its alliance partner put up candidates in all the seats and proved to be a minor spoiler for the AAP in at least two constituencies—Laxmi Nagar and Gandhinagar.

In Badarpur, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate who polled some 10,000 votes enabled the victory of Ram Vir Singh of the BJP, who won by a slim margin of 3,606 votes. The BSP, which used to have a considerable presence among the Dalit population in Delhi, seems to have ceded space to other parties over the years.

From securing 1.88 per cent of the votes in the 1993 Delhi Assembly election when it first contested, the BSP steadily improved its fortunes which peaked in 2008, when it won two seats and secured 14.04 per cent of the votes. The BSP’s vote share has been downhill ever since, falling to 5.35 per cent in 2013, 1.30 per cent in 2015 and finally 0.71 per cent in 2020.

The entry of the AAP with the broom resonated with the lived experiences of the Scheduled Caste population in Delhi. Coupled with this symbolism and his welfarist schemes, Kejriwal, a non-Dalit, had in one stroke reached out to the working classes and the safai karamcharis in Delhi.

The AAP became the new messiah of the Dalits, replacing the Congress and the BSP. It won all 12 reserved seats, with its candidates winning with credible margins ranging from 11,000 to 48,000 votes.

In most constituencies, AAP candidates faced few hurdles. A chief reason for this was the fairly dominant perception among people that the AAP had done good work.

Voters described in detail how government schools had improved tremendously and health services, however basic, in the “mohalla” clinics and polyclinics had personally benefited them and their families. Women voters were elated by the free transport in buses as it had afforded them an opportunity to step out without being dependent on their spouses and families for transport money.

‘Othering’ by BJP fails

The BJP’s gains in terms of vote share came from its strategy of polarising the electorate and creating the binary of the “other”, but clearly it was not enough to secure even a fifth of the total number of seats. The party’s single-minded obsession with the peaceful protest by women in Shaheen Bagh did not pay any dividends. Statements likening the Shaheen Bagh protest and other smaller ones in the capital to “mini-Pakistans” by BJP leaders did not have the effect of polarising the electorate to the extent they desired.

Amanatullah Khan, the AAP candidate from Okhla where the Shaheen Bagh protest was located, was re-elected with a margin of 71,827 votes, indicating that he had received support from all sections.

Kejriwal won comfortably from the New Delhi seat with 21,647 votes, although his victory margin was lower by 10,000 votes from the previous election.

In Ballimaran, a Muslim-dominated constituency, Imran Hussain of the AAP won with a margin of 36,172 votes. In Chandni Chowk, the AAP’s Prahlad Sawhney trounced the BJP’s Suman Gupta by over 29,000 votes. In 2015, this seat was won by Alka Lamba, who was then in the AAP. Alka Lamba, who has switched to the Congress, came third.

In Matia Mahal, Shoaib Iqbal of the AAP defeated the BJP candidate with a margin of over 50,000 votes, which would not have been possible without majority community votes. In 2015, the AAP’s Asim Khan had won it with a margin of 20,096 votes. The margin of victory in 2020 was much higher.

In Mustafabad, Haji Yunus of the AAP defeated sitting BJP MLA Jagdish Pradhan by over 20,000 votes, again an indicator that the BJP’s polarisation tactics did not succeed.

Speeches and statements by senior BJP leaders, including Parvesh Verma, MP from Outer Delhi who called Kejriwal a terrorist, were made with impunity. Neither the E.C. nor the Delhi Police considered them serious enough to take action. .

A Union Cabinet minister held a press conference endorsing the “terrorist” tag for Kejriwal, stating that the AAP chief’s style was anarchic and similar to terrorism. Many of these speeches openly fostered enmity between communities. The E.C. merely banned some of the BJP star campaigners such as Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra from campaigning for some hours.

Amit Shah shocked voters while campaigning when he exhorted them to push the vote button so hard that the “electric current” would have an effect in Shaheen Bagh. The targeting of a section of the populace with such rhetoric was noticed by everyone barring the E.C., which ideally should have taken suo motu notice of the exhortation that was tantamount to creating enmity among people. BJP candidates such as Kapil Mishra in Model Town and Tajinder Bagga in Hari Nagar, who made incendiary statements, lost. Mishra had likened the election to an India-Pakistan cricket match and exhorted Hindus to come out and vote. He lost by 11,133 votes to the AAP’s Akhilesh Pati Tripathi.

Somnath Bharti and Raghav Chaddha, confidants of Kejriwal, won with handsome margins from Malviya Nagar and Rajinder Nagar respectively, as did Rakhi Bidlan from the reserved constituency of Mangolpuri. A voter complained to Frontline that BJP candidates were “only doing Hindu-Muslim” and had little to say about what they would do for Delhi.

The AAP’s campaign was centred around welfare schemes and development work, especially in the areas of health and education. Women voters were also impressed with Kejriwal’s policies of making bus transport free for them, installing CCTVs and deploying marshals in buses to prevent sexual harassment. The decision to make free the consumption of up to 200 units of electricity, with similar concessions for water consumption, also helped the AAP consolidate its support base.

BJP’s major gains

The major gains for the BJP have been in North East and East Delhi where its State president and MP from North East Manoj Tiwari and East Delhi MP Gautam Gambhir were elected to Parliament. Manoj Tiwari was made BJP chief in 2017 in the hope that the party would attract the migrant voter population from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Before joining politics, Tiwari was well known as a singer and actor in Bhojpuri films. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was roped in to campaign with an eye on voters of Uttarakhand origin, who are sizeable in number in parts of East Delhi.

In the 2013 election, when the AAP made its first foray into electoral politics, it secured 29 per cent of the votes and won 28 seats. Even though the AAP and the Congress formed the government, it was short-lived. In 2014, the AAP put up candidates in 400 seats in the general election and Kejriwal himself contested against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi.

The BJP swept all seven seats in Delhi and secured 46 per cent of the votes; the AAP led in 10 segments with 33 per cent of the votes and the Congress managed 15 per cent of the votes but had no lead in any segment.

In the 2015 Assembly election, the BJP’s vote share came down from 46 per cent to 32 per cent. In the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections in 2017, the BJP secured 36 per cent of the votes and retained its hold on the MCD, winning 181 of the 272 seats. Its vote share went up significantly in the 2019 Lok Sabha election as it repeated its 2014 performance by sweeping all seven seats and securing 57 per cent of the votes. It led in 65 of the 70 constituencies.

The Lok Sabha result perhaps gave the BJP the confidence that it would sweep the Assembly election. It did not field a single Muslim candidate even though some of its most vocal spokespersons, like Shazia Ilmi and Syed Yasir, belong to the community.

The influx of jobseekers and migrants into the city has created new residential pockets, several of which are shanties and irregular colonies; the regularisation and in situ development of these has been a bone of contention between the Centre and the Delhi government. Some 97.5 per cent of Delhi now lives in urban areas and 53 per cent of the population is concentrated in North West, West and South districts.

With a burgeoning and aspiring middle and lower middle class constituting the bulk of the electorate in Delhi, which is also incidentally in the grip of an economic slowdown and price rise, there has been some expectation that political parties would deliver basic services, which is what the AAP seemed to have succeeded in to a certain extent.

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