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This article was first published 9 years ago  » News » Battleground Delhi: Why AAP looks confident

Battleground Delhi: Why AAP looks confident

By A K Bhattacharya
Last updated on: February 04, 2015 12:18 IST
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Despite attacks from the BJP and the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party still leads in the opinion polls.

AAP leaders Arvind Kejriwal and Ashutosh come out after meeting at the Election Commission in New Delhi. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI

The Aam Aadmi Party is under attack. A group claiming to be a breakaway faction of the AAP has alleged that the Arvind Kejriwal-led party had received donations of about Rs 2 crore from questionable sources. The AAP leaders have responded by demanding an independent inquiry into those charges. The Bharatiya Janata Party also has launched a vitriolic attack against the AAP, particularly its leader Kejriwal. The AAP has responded by lodging a complaint with the Election Commission. The battle for ballots has not seen such bitterness in the last several decades of assembly elections in Delhi.

It would be instructive to identify the key reasons why this battle has become so intense. Why is the entire top leadership of the BJP leaving no stone unturned in its bid to win a majority in the 70-member Delhi assembly and form its government after 17 years of wilderness in the opposition? And why does the AAP leadership appear to be gaining in confidence, as though it is scenting victory, with every passing day?

The first obvious reason is the latest results of the various opinion surveys that are coming out from various agencies. Almost all of them give a clear edge to Kejriwal’s party. Compared with 28 seats won by the AAP in the 2013 elections, these surveys this time are giving it 35 to 41 seats. If the surveys prove true, Kejriwal will be home and become Delhi’s chief minister for the second time. This has made the BJP leadership and workers redouble their efforts at countering the rise of the AAP, just as the latter party has got rejuvenated by the survey findings and intensified its efforts at securing a clear majority for itself. The flurry of charges and counter-charges that one sees these days is but a reflection of the BJP’s nervousness and the AAP’s renewed resolve to secure its victory.

The second reason could be the BJP’s own internal assessment that must have made it a little nervous. In early January, the BJP president would not bat an eyelid before announcing with a triumphant look that the next government in Delhi would be led by his own party. Since then a lot of things have happened. The party has recognised the leadership problems that continue to bedevil its Delhi unit. It had no internal candidate who could be projected as the chief minister in the event of its winning the elections and forming the government.

So it chose Kiran Bedi, a former police officer who was part of Kejriwal’s campaign against corruption. This was seen as an astute move in the BJP’s bid to win middle-class and, in particular, women voters in Delhi. But the decision also caused disillusionment among the BJP workers and its aspiring leaders, which in turn encouraged the AAP and its workers to step up their campaign a few notches.

For full coverage on the Delhi polls, click HERE

The move to induct Bedi to lead the BJP’s campaign had another unintended consequence. And that is the third factor that seems to be playing an important role in the Delhi elections. Comparisons have been drawn to what the BJP did in a similar situation in Maharashtra or in Haryana. It had no clear leader who could be declared the chief ministerial candidate before the elections in those two states. Instead of looking for such a leader from within or outside, it allowed the election campaigns to be led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who held a record number of election rallies in those two states. The results were there for all to see. The BJP formed governments with leaders chosen from among those who had fought and won the elections.  

Why couldn’t the same formula be used in Delhi? Was the BJP leadership a bit uncertain about using Modi as the party’s face in the Delhi elections and running the risk of a defeat and its adverse impact on the prime minister’s reputation? And was Bedi a useful leader in such a situation? If the party wins, the credit would go to the top leadership and if it loses, then the blame would be on the chief ministerial candidate. These questions are unlikely to be answered by anybody in the BJP. But this thought alone was strong enough to revitalise the AAP leaders in their assessment that this was a sign that the BJP was not as confident of its victory as it was in Maharashtra and Haryana.

Fourthly, the Delhi elections saw the BJP facing a non-Congress opposition for only the third time since its victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. In all these elections, its performance against a non-Congress opposition has not been very convincing. In Jharkhand, its victory margin was narrow and in Jammu and Kashmir, it could not establish its own government even with an alliance partner. In contrast, it could defeat the Congress with relative ease in Maharashtra and Haryana. With the Congress in complete disarray in Delhi, the BJP’s fight in the capital city is with the AAP, giving rise to the same dilemma that had troubled it in Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir. If the BJP is suffering from internal doubts while facing the electorate, it could be largely because of this electoral calculation.

Finally, the AAP’s manifesto has made a valiant attempt at widening its appeal, going beyond the economically weaker sections of society to embrace the trading community. Apart from the promise of reducing water and power tariffs, its election manifesto now talks of lowering the value-added tax. This must have gladdened the hearts of all traders in Delhi, which so far was a safe BJP constituency. Is it then a surprise that the AAP is exuding confidence and the BJP leadership is looking a little worried about what happens on the polling day on February 7?

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A K Bhattacharya
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