The Election Commission announced the schedule for Delhi assembly election last week, which will see 1.46 crore of voters cast their votes on February 8 to decide who will rule the national capital over the next five years. Though Delhi has been the seat of power for the BJP-led national government since 2014, BJP has remained out of power in the Delhi assembly over the last 21 years. That’s a very long dry-run for the saffron party which, despite sweeping Delhi in 2014 general election by winning all seven Lok Sabha seats, had failed miserably in February 2015 Delhi assembly poll: BJP won just three seats against a massive 67 seats won by AAP, while the Congress, facing a strong anti-incumbency sentiment, drew a complete blank.
The 2019 general election outcome for the BJP in Delhi was a repeat of the 2014 national poll: BJP swept Delhi once again with 57 per cent vote share, far ahead of the Congress which got 23 per cent votes, while AAP finished third with 18 per cent votes. Given these numbers, the obvious question is: who will win Delhi assembly election 2020, which is crucial for all three political parties? AAP has been a fairly popular party in Delhi since its inception in 2013 and driving the AAP wave is the popularity of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who, according to CVoter opinion poll, is the first choice as the chief minister. For AAP, this would be the third time it will seek to form the government in Delhi, while BJP has ruled Delhi once before, between 1993 and 1998, and the Congress was in power for three terms, from 1998 to 2013.
The survey, conducted in the first week of January, predicts a clean sweep for AAP: the emphatic victory by a huge margin of seats and vote share will mean a crushing defeat for the BJP and the Congress. In what may be the BJP’s fourth setback in a row after Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand rout, the CVoter survey predicts that AAP could win 54 to 64 assembly seats out of a total of 70, while the BJP will finish between 3 and 13 seats and the Congress could open its account with 0 to 6 seats. In terms of vote share, the survey predicts that AAP could get a whopping 53 per cent of votes, while the BJP is expected to poll 26 per cent of votes and the Congress 5 per cent. Obviously brand Kejriwal is likely to work for AAP, which is expected to retain power on its claim of good governance and delivery of essential services like electricity, water, healthcare and school education.
Before 2013, elections in Delhi were a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP. With the entry of AAP in electoral fray in 2013, Delhi elections have become a triangular contest. The rise of AAP in Delhi has been at the cost of the Congress, as the BJP’s vote share has remained stagnant between 32 and 36 per cent in the last three assembly polls. However, in 2020, the BJP’s vote share is predicted to fall by 6 to 7 per cent. If this happens, it would be the lowest vote share for the BJP in many years in Delhi. The projected vote shares of the Congress at 4.8 per cent is also half of what it was in 2015. The important caveat in the survey is that as many as 16.2 per cent voters are either undecided or backing other parties.
The results of the opinion poll are in sharp contrast with BJP’s dominance in Delhi in the 2019 general election, but quite in line with the trend witnessed in state elections in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. In Lok Sabha election, the BJP was a leading party in 65 of the 70 assembly segments, while the Congress was a leading player in only 5 segments and the AAP did not lead in even a single assembly constituency. Delhi voters seem to behave quite differently in national and state elections: unlike the Lok Sabha poll in which the BJP got a lion’s share of votes, in the assembly election, BJP’s vote share is likely to fall by a whopping 31 per cent, while AAP’s vote share is likely to jump by 25 per cent.
Given BJP’s weakness to perform in state elections since December 2017 – it has not been able to get the majority in a single state since Gujarat poll – it appears that Kejriwal’s governance, added by absence of anti-incumbency, is likely to prevail in Delhi assembly election. A recent survey by Lokniti-CSDS, a well-known research organisation, suggested a very high level of satisfaction level with the performance of the AAP government in Delhi. As many as 86 per cent of the total respondents said they are either fully satisfied (53 per cent) or somewhat satisfied (33 per cent) with Kejriwal. This satisfaction level comes from two factors: Kejriwal’s personal popularity and his welfare schemes – free water, low price of electricity, mohalla clinics and improvement in school infrastructure. This makes Kejriwal a formidable challenge for the BJP, which has not projected anyone as its chief ministerial candidate.
AAP is an outcome of the 2011 Lok Pal Bill and India against Corruption agitation, led by Anna Hazare. Kejriwal was one of the key faces behind the popular non-political agitation, which later led to the birth of a new political party. AAP was founded in October 2012 and Kejriwal was one of its founder members. Fighting its first political battle in 2013, AAP under Kejriwal’s leadership, managed to oust the Congress from the Delhi legislative assembly in one of the biggest political upsets of all time by winning 28 seats and bringing Congress down to just 8. But the celebrations did not last long: after forming a minority government with outside support from Congress, the Kejriwal-led government failed to pass the Lok Pal bill in the assembly. This forced them to resign with a little less than three months in power.
After failing to counter the Modi wave in May 2014, AAP came roaring back with a sweeping victory in Delhi assembly election in early 2015. Since then, Kejriwal and his party have faced many political challenges and overcome several obstacles. It has fought with the Centre head-on to ensure delivery of its welfare measures. It may not have fulfilled all its poll promises, but it has done reasonably well, given that Delhi not being a full-fledged state, its governance machinery is often mired in political conflict, power struggle and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. The big problem for BJP is the lack of issues on which it can seek votes. The advantage with AAP is that it is reaching out to people on the basis of its performance and ideas of governance.
The writer is an independent Mumbai-based senior journalist.