Delhi Election Trail 2015: Day 7
What can build or dash hopes for AAP, BJP and Congress?
It is the voting day and Delhi has come out to vote for candidates to 70 assembly seats. A total of 673 candidates representing various parties will vie for voters’ attention in one of the most keenly contested assembly polls ever.
The contest is supposed to be a three-cornered one between BJP, AAP and Congress, but it is actually a fight between an ‘aggressive’ BJP and ‘resurgent’ AAP, with Congress hoping for consolatory gains.
So how do all the three major parties stack up?
Unlike AAP that went into campaign mode early, BJP took its time to get into action. Amit Shah and his political campaign team was gung-ho at the time they began active campaigning on the back of some terrific wins in other states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was breaking new grounds on almost all international turfs and the Indian pride was flying high.
While Modi was keeping his bureaucrats at the centre busy, the political backend was rocking with a confident Amit Shah at the helm of affairs. Realising that Arvind Kejriwal and his team had covered a lot of ground through persistent campaigning and watching the common man responding positively to him, Shah was hard-pressed to pick a suitable Chief Ministerial candidate to match the image of credibility, integrity and a common man’s leader that Kejriwal presented.
Amit Shah had followed a policy of not announcing a CM candidate in all previous polls that BJP fought and the strategy worked in keeping the party flock from infighting in the run up to elections. But Delhi is different. For Team BJP, it is a much-coveted crown. Delhi has to be won and there is more than just prestige attached to it. Losing Delhi is not an option for BJP as the aftermath of a loss here will weaken the party as it continues its electoral push in other states through 2015-17.
Delhi matters. It was evident in BJP as it broke its poll strategy by pitching Kiran Bedi as the party’s choice for Chief Minister. She was a rank outsider and a political novice. Yet, it was Arvind Kejriwal’s growing popularity that forced Amit Shah to announce Bedi as the CM candidate.
How does BJP look on the voting day?
What needs to be noted is that BJP had won maximum seats in the last assembly polls in Delhi and this was before Modi burst onto the national scene. AAP’s 49-day government raised hope of a corruption-free governance that would deliver on their promises made to the common man. That hope was short-lived and the people of Delhi have not forgotten how the euphoria over a credible government fizzled out in no time. Yet, in Kejriwal they see Modi’s ‘changemaker’ attitude.
The people on the streets of Delhi have been asking what Modi has done for them in the last eight months. This is perhaps BJP’s biggest challenge. They are promising Delhi a development and progressive agenda but they do not have an answer to the question on what have they have actually done for Delhi, thus far.
BJP has been fighting internal dissent on account of Kiran Bedi, which forced Amit Shah to take a tough stand and force a gag on publicly voicing dissent. That has not helped BJP’s cause.
BJP has some real challenges to contend with
It is not just winning the elections but ensuring continued support from party cadres to Kiran Bedi should she become the next CM. It is a tall order.
BJP is nervous, no question. The party had roped in the entire top brass to campaign in Delhi with the Prime Minister himself leading the way. In all election campaigns so far, post Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had credited Modi for all victories, but with AAP’s resurgence ahead of the voting day, Amit Shah has tried to distance Narendra Modi from the election result, in a belated attempt to insulate him should the party fail to form the next government. On its part, BJP has tried to show that AAP is not really a party but an individual with little ability to lead and govern.
The Muslim vote is likely to go against it and the number is sizeable, though concentrated in certain pockets of Delhi. In a last minute attempt to polarize votes, the Shahi Imam of Delhi has called for all Muslims to vote for AAP. However, AAP has condemned and rejected this attempt at polarization. It remains to be seen to which side will the Muslim voters tilt.
BJP’s slow response or lack of response to the attacks on churches in Delhi is likely to go against the party. Christians may be a minority but they still form a sizeable number and are spread out over all 70 constituencies. The latest incident of lathicharge and arresting of people protesting the recent church attacks has not gone down well with the Christian community and this will certainly impact BJP’s chances, in the last minute.
BJP had no contingency plans for both these developments, though the Muslim vote would always have been a challenge for the party.
In addition, CPI and TMC have thrown their lot with AAP and this is likely to affect their chances, though to what extent remains to be seen.
What has gone in BJP’s favour was Dera Saccha Sauda’s decision to extend support just two days before the voting day. Its 12 lakh followers will certainly make a difference should it come to a close contest.
BJP is certainly up against a tough fight from AAP that seemed a cakewalk for the party just 60 days ago. But it still has a large following that believes Narendra Modi will deliver not just for the nation but also for Delhi and has faith in Kiran Bedi to lead a clean and corruption-free government, at the local level.
Can AAP bounce back?
Arvind Kejriwal has been ruing the day he resigned from government and his CM seat. However, he has successfully managed to position himself as the underdog and show humility in accepting his mistake and apologizing to the people of Delhi. It seems to have worked.
He has managed to draw large crowds to his rallies, enough to make BJP seriously worried. AAP cadres have been working overtime and for a longer period than the BJP in reaching out to the common man. The effort seems to have paid off and now the opinion polls have projected a very real possibility of AAP winning the Delhi elections.
But another reality cannot be ignored. In the 2013 assembly elections, AAP got majority of votes from the urban areas of Delhi. While the party polled just 4% more seats than the Congress, yet it managed to win 20 more seats. But at that time, the fight was really with the Congress, which was struggling to tackle the anti-incumbency wave.
This time around, it is a Modi-led BJP that AAP has to contend with and Kiran Bedi’s induction has taken away some sheen from Arvind Kejriwal in his being a torchbearer of integrity and credibility.
So, if AAP has to bounce back, it will have to significantly increase its vote share percentage not just against the Congress, in the seats it had won last time, but make further inroads into the seats that it had lost to BJP. As of now, AAP has not done anything to validate the number of seats that opinion polls are crediting them with.
Senior party leaders like Shanti Bhushan endorsing Kiran Bedi has only highlighted the fact that all is not well within the party. And the latest seizure of illicit liquor attributed to party leader Bhuyan has not helped either.
The problem with AAP is that it has relied heavily on Kejriwal to lead the party but should they win, he will be short of competent leaders with administrative experience to deliver the kind of governance that AAP has been promising.
The last thing the people of Delhi want is an unstable and inept government. This will certainly play on the voter’s mind at the time of voting.
Can Congress recover the lost ground?
The party has not been able to shake off the despondency amongst party cadres with repeated drubbing received in state assembly elections. And Rahul Gandhi has not been able to inspire the rank and file.
The party high command is facing serious rebellion from senior party loyalists and this has not given out a positive signal to voters who have traditionally voted for the party.
In this backdrop, Ajay Maken making a spirited attempt to salvage the party’s chances has been creditable. He has made some last minute gains in reaching out to the loyal segment. Sixty days back, no one was willing to place any bets on Congress, however, the party has managed to recover some lost ground, though belatedly.
The Congress could still win more seats than what the opinion polls have been predicting and emerge as a party spoiler for both BJP and AAP. To what extent, we shall know when the results are announced.
Over to the people of Delhi!
For BJP, there is more than prestige at stake. The results will have an impact on BJP’s future poll chances and strategy.
For AAP, it is a make or break attempt. After failing in other state elections, a loss here could well break the party, while a win may just give it a breathing space to recover and consolidate.
For Congress, it is at best a consolatory fight. It will have to wait another day for a comeback.
For the voters, it is their hope and trust at stake. Let’s hope that the people make the right call.