Ever since the schedule for the Delhi Assembly election was announced, the city’s air is full of claims and counter-claims. While the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and its chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is talking about the achievements of the government, the BJP is trying its best to puncture those assertions.
Ground reports and some recent opinion polls suggest a groundswell in favour of the AAP. After a very poor performance during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it seems to have made a recovery. The BJP, which registered a massive victory in those elections winning all seven seats with 57 per cent votes, is certainly its nearest rival, but still quite a distant one.
The Congress that ruled Delhi for 15 long years (1998-2013) seems to be a non-starter. Worsening its prospects, two of its prominent leaders — five-time MLA from Matia Mahal Shoaib Iqbal and two-time MLA from Badarpur Ram Singh — along with some councillors and local leaders — shifted to the AAP ahead of the elections.
While one can’t deny that the mood of voters does sometimes change overnight, going by the current trend, it seems that at the moment AAP is well-placed to win the Delhi elections.
Despite not performing well both in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the AAP has remained a popular choice for running the government in the national capital. Though it could not win a majority of seats in the very first Assembly election that it contested in 2013, winning 28 seats with 29.5 per cent votes, when the Assembly elections were held again after a little over a year in 2015, we witnessed an unprecedented mandate in favour of AAP — 67 of the 70 Assembly seats and a 54.3 per cent vote share. On the verge of completing its first five-year term, its eye set on another victory, the AAP has launched its campaign by highlighting the work done by its government during the last five years. Will the AAP be able to hold on to its popularity among voters? Would performance alone be enough to guarantee it another term?
The BJP is likely to contest the elections on national issues highlighting its government’s achievements —passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), abrogation of Article 370, supporting the construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya and enactment of the triple talaq law. While the effects of the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens have not been seen yet, going by how the people have voted in the last few Assembly elections, Delhi voters might just be more concerned about city-level local issues — even if they voted for the BJP in large numbers only recently.
In the recently-concluded Jharkhand Assembly elections, a minuscule number voted based on the Ayodhya controversy, as indicated by the post-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Economic issues played an important role in shaping the voting choices of the people of Jharkhand.
The Delhi Governance Survey conducted by Lokniti-CSDS indicates that almost one half of those in support with the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya judgment indicated they would vote for the AAP. Similarly, more than half of those who are in complete support for the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir also seemed inclined to vote for the AAP in Delhi’s Assembly election. The survey data also indicates that direct benefits received by the people of Delhi through various schemes of the Delhi government might be critical in shaping their voting decision.
In Haryana, just five months after the Lok Sabha elections when it secured a 58 per cent voteshare, the anti-Khattar narrative among Jats denied a majority to the BJP, forcing it to form a coalition government. Showing a similar trend, the BJP’s voteshare in the “26-per-cent-adivasi-strong-Jharkhand” too dropped by around 22 percentage points (from a combined vote share of 55.3 per cent of the BJP and the AJSU), compared to the Lok Sabha polls, also owing to the unpopularity of Raghubar Das, especially among adivasis. Not to forget, anti-incumbency towards the state government outweighed Narendra Modi’s popularity in the Assembly elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as well.
But anti-incumbency doesn’t seem to be a hurdle for the AAP. The Delhi Governance Survey suggests huge satisfaction among voters with the AAP government. The data shows AAP to be the most popular choice of the voters even among those who are completely satisfied with the performance of the central government. More than two in five among those who claimed to be completely satisfied with the last six months performance of the Modi-led-BJP reported having a strong leaning towards AAP.
Besides, at a time when elections have become more about the popularity of the individual than the party, AAP scores over the BJP. The BJP does not have any leader to match the popularity of Mr Kejriwal. It might have to contest these elections with Mr Modi as the party’s face. Mr Modi still remains very popular among Delhi’s voters, but findings of the Delhi Governance Study indicated that Mr Kejriwal trumped Mr Modi by over 10 percentage points.
The survey also indicated that Delhi voters are more likely to vote on the basis of the work done by the AAP in the capital, rather than looking at the work done by Mr Modi at the Centre. While 55 per cent said they would be voting looking only at the work done by the AAP in Delhi, only 15 per cent said they would vote on the basis of the work done by Mr Modi at the Centre. Thus, even if the fight becomes one between Mr Kejriwal and Mr Modi, the former looks stronger on his own turf.
Since the elections are just over three weeks away, we are yet to see how the story unfolds. However, if the AAP succeeds in keeping the narrative confined to local issues, it can certainly hope for a third term.
Sanjay Kumar is a professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
Manjesh Rana is a researcher with Lokniti, a research programmme of CSDS.