By Harihar Swarup
Ask a man on the street or people living in posh localities, who they would vote for in the coming Delhi elections and their prompt reply would be—“Arvind Kejriwal”. It appears a wave is building up for Kejriwal and, on his party, the Delhi Chief Minister is certain of a second term. These are the same Delliwalas who had voted for Narendra Modi in 2014 and 2019.
At the national-level, Modi is still a popular, despite reverses in several states, but in Delhi and NCR, Kejriwal’s rating is much higher.BJP had won all seven seats in the Lok Sabha election in Delhi only six months ago. But most people in the Union Capital seem to be inclined towards return the seven-year old Aam Aadmi Party to power in the state mostly for one reason: Kaam Kiya Hai (he has done work).
There are five things almost everyone is listing as a ‘model’ for governance which have improved their lives: bijli, pani, health, education and free bus ride for women, and CCTV cameras in their colonies. Not belonging to a politically relevant caste, or to a political family, but tied down by spats with Lt. Governor and the Centre for the first three and half years of his term, till the Supreme Court restored some of his powers, chief minister Kejriwal is making a bid for power on the basis of the work done he has done.
Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and Maharashtra Deputy CM Ajit Pawar have already said they would like to study and replicate what the Delhi government has done in government schools. Drop into a government school in Bhogal, an area in South Delhi that used to be locally referred to as a ‘shit yard’. Today, the tin-shed structure has been replaced by three storied brick building with modern class rooms, clean toilets, a syllabus that includes ‘happiness curriculum’, encouraging entrepreneurship among senior students, and awareness of environment. But the most impressive was the confidence exuded by the students, their clarity about what they wanted to become: doctor, English teacher, etc. They are mostly children of domestic workers and drivers and the majority of the students were girls.
Kejriwal is ensuring that the narrative leading up to February 8 assembly election remains focused on local issues, and achievements of his administration. Many voters are especially impressed by the Kejriwal government delivering free electricity under 200 units and free water under 20,000 litres, improvement in Mohalla clinics and the sea change that has come about in state government schools.
With the leaders privately conceding that it will be a “tough fight”, BJP is now pulling out all stops and planning 5,000 small rallies in the city over the next days. Unlike in Jharkhand, the BJP also plans to go in for alliances, with Dushyant Chautala-led Jannnayak Party to reach out to Jats in Delhi’s Jat dominated areas, and with Janata Dal (United) in the hope of getting party chief and Bihat Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to campaign in the constituencies with a large Bihari population.
BJP also plans to make a bid to get back support of bastis (shanties), with the promise of regularizing unauthorized colonies, even as many residents remain skeptical of such a promise that had also been made by earlier administration. What the party is doing is trying to shift the poll narrative towards ‘national’ issues and playing irritability of the middle class who can’t use the Kalindi Kunj Road at Shaheen Bagh, which has become a symbol of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Delhi.
Shaheen Bagh in south Delhi itself is a new phenomenon, a riposte to those who see Lutyens’/ Khan Market liberal left lot as representative of Delhi’s anti-government disaffection. At Shaheen Bagh, Muslim women, young and old, students and housewives, have been protesting peacefully the past month and more with their children, some of them who had never publicly protested against anything to demand that they are treated as citizens of India. Paranoia or not, this is a sentiment that is palpable in poll-bound Delhi. What will be political fallout, if these protesters are forcibly removed? Could it lead to Hindu-Muslim polarization on the eve of polls? The High Court has asked Delhi Police to look into the matter. Importantly, Kejriwal has not openly opposed CAA. Nor did he attend the meeting of opposition leaders against CAA-NRC (National Register of Citizens) called by the Congress last week.
Delhi 2020 is essentially a fight between APP and BJP, with Muslims, scheduled caste looking at AAP with favour. It is also about local versus national. Unlike APP, BJP has not projected a chief ministerial candidate. It has declared that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the BJP’s chief campaigner.
Even though it accounts for only seven Lok Sabha seats, Delhi’s importance has always been disproportionate to its size as the capital of India. But this time, the assembly elections are being watched with interest for another reason.
Politicians often lament that no matter what they do by way of projects, programme and delivery of promises, when it comes to voting, people tend to be swayed away by caste, community or other emotional issues. This time, Delhi’s voters are openly and loudly talking about education, health, water and electricity being the bench mark of their decision making. If indeed this happens on February 8, it will send its own message to the political class across India 2020 and beyond. (IPA Service)