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BJP trounced in Delhi polls

Mohammad Asif Khan

New Delhi, March 28: The ruling Hindu right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has once again received a body blow in the just concluded elections of the Delhi Municipal Corporation. BJP, which ruled the corporation, lost all but 17 seats in its own bastion. The Congress Party romped home with a landslide victory with 107 seats out of the total of 134. All the BJP stalwarts, including Delhi mayor Shanti Desai and deputy mayor Rajesh Gehlot, lost miserably at the hands of the Congress candidates. The Delhi Municipal Corporation (MCD) looks after 14 million people spread over an area of 1400 square kilometers. 

The outgoing MCD house had 79 BJP and 45 Congress councilors, besides 10 independents. With its large population of Punjabi emigrants from Pakistan and trader (Bania) community, Delhi is considered a tradition bastion of the BJP.

The BJP which had swept all the seven seats of Parliament from Delhi in the 1998 parliamentary elections, lost everything in one go, putting a question mark over its future. Only last February it lost miserably in the legislative assemblies in four states where it previously ruled on its own or as a ruling-coalition partner. So strong was the anger against the BJP that Congress made inroads even in areas where it had never been able to win during the forty years long history of the MCD. These include areas dominated by two previous chief ministers of Delhi.

The BJP was expecting more than a hundred seats till only last week. Later the party scaled down its expectations and claimed that it will win at least seventy seats. What has in fact shaken the BJP leadership is the margin of defeat in most constituencies. Such heavy defeats have not been recorded even in the Delhi legislative assembly polls. These results are seen as a clear indication of rising popular resentment against the BJP government at the centre and its divisive policies. 

The party had deployed all its resources to win the MCD elections. Its campaign was inaugurated by none other than the Home Minister and a former BJP president, LK Advani, and a large number of film stars were deployed to campaign for the Hindu rightist party. 

To win local suuport, the BJP had also projected the recent incidents in Gujarat, especially the Godhra train incident on 27 February which ignited the on-going violence in Gujarat. The effort to produce a communal [anti-Muslim] hype, with a hope to polarise Hindu voters, during the last few days of electioneering by repeatedly referring to the Godhra tragedy and the subsequent Gujarat incidents didn’t click with the voters. Instead this seems to have backfired. The "achievements" of the BJP government at the centre failed to cut much ice with the people and the resentment among the middle class, trading community, urbanites and farmers has come out clearly. 

Though the BJP leaders have blamed the recently passed anti-poor budget for their defeat, they have also conceded that the large-scale violence fanned by the BJP and its sister organizations in Gujarat has also contributed to its defeat. Ordinary people have come to see the BJP as a problem and liability which has failed utterly to solve India's real problems.

All-India Congress Committee (AICC) member Kamal Nath said that it was not the local issues but national issues that have helped his party win the Delhi municipal elections. "This election was held at the peak of Godhra, Ayodhya and anti-terrorism POTO law, and Delhi's people have seen the BJP's real face. They have not only rejected BJP but have done so decisively, with determination. They have not only defeated the sitting BJP members but also rejected their policies," he said.

The most remarkable victory is that of Mohammad Asif Khan, the incarcerated councilor from Muslim-dominated Okhla area in South Delhi. He won by the highest-ever margin, defeating his BJP rival by more than 14500 votes.

The posterMohammad Asif Khan is currently locked up in Delhi's Tihar Jail for posters he put up on his constituency walls condemning the US attack on Afghanistan and questioning India's blind support to it. He was promptly arrested and remains behind bars for the last five months and has been denied even bail, although even the former chief justice of India, Justice Ahmadi has said that Asif has committed no crime under the Indian laws. Asif's campaign was carried out by his wife Fehmina and his eight-year-old year daughter Areeba.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was a local election, the defeat may have serious repercussions for the BJP and its government at the centre. Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit said, ‘this is the first step of the Congress towards capturing power at the centre. The day is not far when the communal forces will be thrown out and the Congress will once again ride back to power.’ She also said that the results of the Delhi municipal corporation will reflect all over the country.
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