Delhi: A Major Political Battle!

Within less than a year, politics in Delhi has witnessed several crucial developments, which may be held responsible for assembly election results. The previous Delhi assembly elections were viewed as a key fight between three parties led by their respective leaders. These were Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi, Congress by Rahul Gandhi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) headed by Arvind Kejriwal. It may be recalled that earlier Delhi assembly polls were primarily contested between two key parties, the Congress and the BJP. The sudden entry of AAP on the political stage ahead of the last Delhi assembly polls changed the bilateral fight into a trilateral contest. The recent polls, however, were once again primarily a bilateral battle. The key battle was fought between the BJP and AAP, with Congress hardly figuring in this contest. And this raises several questions regarding the political strategy adopted by voters as well as parties in race.

Interestingly, till date, ever since Narendra Modi succeeded in parliamentary polls, BJP's political campaign in subsequent state assembly elections focussed largely on chanting Modi's name and his development agenda. Delhi assembly polls witnessed a shift in this strategy with the new entrant into BJP, Kiran Kiran Bedi's name projected as the party's chief ministerial candidate. While AAP banked on rallying behind Kejriwal, Congress adopted a rather subdued profile in promoting Rahul Gandhi's name. Thus, unlike previous Delhi assembly elections and parliamentary polls, when the political contest was projected as between Modi, Rahul and Kejriwal, the recent Delhi elections witnessed a major change. Though BJP continued campaigning in the name of Modi, some political and media space was taken over by Bedi. Kejriwal surfaced more prominently than he did earlier and Rahul along with his party were practically absent. The recent fight for Delhi assembly was thus between BJP and AAP, with Congress given little political importance.

Should this be viewed as a sign of Congress facing political death? It is perhaps too early to assume that this party is likely to be confined to opposition in coming days. There is yet another aspect to political strategy worked out in Delhi by voters and politicians. The Congress has apparently accepted that it needs a little more time to revive its political strength and regain the support it has lost. In these circumstances, the Congress and its supporters counted on AAP winning Delhi assembly and BJP being the loser. Besides, rather than BJP emerging the winner, the Congress preferred AAP getting the chance again to form the Delhi government, with its support. For the Congress, BJP's defeat was politically necessary. It implied that Modi-wave cannot be counted on during all elections. Secondly, BJP's political strategy, gambling on projecting Bedi's name as Delhi's chief minister, can also fail to attract the needed votes.

With Congress still a long way off from facing victory in Delhi, it apparently favoured electoral success of AAP against BJP. A political shock for Modi and BJP was apparently preferred by Congress than a similar shock for AAP.
Congress has several reasons not to face a major threat from AAP. Unlike BJP, AAP's political presence is primarily confined to Delhi. AAP has yet to register any meaningful presence in other parts of the country. Thus AAP's victory in Delhi spells little danger for Congress in other states. From this angle, Congress and its supporters probably viewed AAP's probable success in Delhi as a part of their anti-BJP campaign. The same strategy guided a considerable number of diehard Congress supporters to vote for AAP. They sensed that if they voted for Congress, a party which had minimal chances of faring well in Delhi assembly polls, their votes might go waste. They also feared that voting for Congress could create a dent in electoral support for AAP and help BJP emerge as the winner.  
Against this backdrop, it was not surprising to see an aggressively frenzied campaign indulged in by Muslims in Muslim-dominated areas. Clearly, Muslims preferred an AAP government in Delhi against that of BJP. Their attitude may have been different if in recent past several Muslim-populated areas of Delhi had not witnessed communal tension targeting Muslims. Communal venom spread by extremists linked with BJP has apparently proved politically damaging for this party. With Muslims forming less than 15 percent of Delhi's population, the BJP and its extremist associates did not assume that their vote for AAP could prove politically costly for them. What the BJP did not foresee was that the voting pattern could turn against it if the average voter, particularly Muslims and old Congress supporters, opted voting for AAP as their vote was decided by their anti-BJP electoral strategy.

Thus, AAP”s success should not be viewed as only the success of this party and its leader, Kejriwal. Rather, it is the anti-BJP vote which helped AAP succeed. BJP's success would have reflected the strength of the Modi-wave. Even a few seats and votes secured by Congress only indicate that this party is not yet totally finished.     

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2015 on page no. 11

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