In the times long past, if the capital of a state fell, the king would feel obliged to vacate the throne. But no such calamity is about to happen should the BJP fail to win the on-going Delhi Assembly poll. The battle is fierce and ugly, no doubt. The outgoing Aam Aadmi Party Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a street-smart politician capable of stooping to any level, is giving the BJP a tough time. Both sides are leaving nothing to chance, with the Congress trying desperately to make an impression on the voters who turned their back on the Grand Old Party once Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption fast birthed AAP in 2013. The Assembly poll five years ago was one-sided, the Congress drew a blank while the BJP won only three in the 70-member House. The outcome may not be as one-sided this time. The AAP is making tall claims about its performance and hopes the voters would repose trust in it yet again. Its needless belligerence against the central government, seize of the Delhi Lt. Governor’s office, a running battle with senior bureaucrats in the Delhi Government, arbitrary postings and transfers and, above all, patronage of party loyalists in discretionary appointments votes are expected not to remember. Instead, it harps on great strides made the fields of education and healthcare. Twenty-four-seven propaganda about free water, free power, free rides for women in local buses and the Delhi Metro constitute its winning theme. It may still walk away with the bulk votes of the poor and the lower middle class which seems to have benefited directly from these freebies. The claims about the transformation of the education and healthcare systems are clearly vastly exaggerated. During consecutive three terms of the Congress rule with Sheila Dikshit as chief minister, the capital had witnessed major improvement in the road and transport infrastructure. A number of flyovers, new roads, bypasses, were built and the Delhi Transport Corporation fleet was augmented with the acquisition of new buses. Traffic moved much better then, though since then the vehicular population has further increased. It is ironic that after marginalising Shiela Dikshit during her life-time, the Congress campaign is now built around her performance as chief minister and promises to follow her lead should the voters return it to power. The Congress would be lucky if it manages to win more than a seat or two, so badly it has slipped in the Delhiites’ esteem in the last few years. But the BJP even when it won only three seats in the Assembly five years ago continues to retain its 30-plus vote share. It now banks on the Congress cutting into the anti-BJP vote to win a significant number of seats.
Thanks to the anti Citizen (Amendment) Act protests in Shaheen Bagh and other Muslim-dominated pockets in the capital, the BJP has sought to frame the battle as one between patriotic and anti-national elements. There is an unconcealed element of religious polarisation under the surface, especially as ordinary people are being put to great hardships due to the disruption of one of the main arteries through which heavy traffic used to flow with ease till two months ago when the Muslim women were made to stage a 24x7 protest. The AAP had initially lent open support to the anti-CAA protest but realising that the Shaheen Bagh siege has generated a widespread backlash, Kejriwal is at pains to distance himself from it. Desperately hoping that the police would clear the protesters from the main thoroughfare and thus help mitigate the anger of the people facing daily hardships, the AAP has repeatedly chided the BJP for not engaging the protesters in a dialogue. Meanwhile, the campaign has often turned abusive with vile charges flying freely between the rival parties. Social media posts reveal Kejriwal accusing Modi of being a traitor, of being hand-in-glove with Pakistan, while mid-level BJP leaders like the local MP, Parvesh Verma have returned the compliment. Verma was banned from campaigning by the Election Commission though no notice was taken of the video-clip where Kejriwal is heard calling Modi a traitor, presumably because it pertains to last year’s Lok Sabha campaign. It is a no-holds-barred contest in which Kejriwal, a propagandist par excellence, enjoys a clear edge. We will know the winners and losers next Tuesday when the votes polled this Saturday are to be counted.