Delhi election: It is not complicated

D C PATHAK
Monday, 17 February 2020

The poll verdict in Delhi has become a major event in the country's politics -- the AAP victory looks extraordinary in the face of a determined bid of BJP to capture the national capital. On a closer look, however, it can be seen that a fairly even spread of support for the AAP, a substantive increase in the vote share of BJP and a precipitous decline of the Congress because of the transfer of its votes -- particularly those of Muslims -- to AAP, were the basic determinants of the results in the Assembly election.

The poll verdict in Delhi has become a major event in the country's politics -- the AAP victory looks extraordinary in the face of a determined bid of BJP to capture the national capital. On a closer look, however, it can be seen that a fairly even spread of support for the AAP, a substantive increase in the vote share of BJP and a precipitous decline of the Congress because of the transfer of its votes -- particularly those of Muslims -- to AAP, were the basic determinants of the results in the Assembly election.

The capital of a large democracy like India responds to national issues of economy and security differently from people in other parts of the country and does not get easily swayed by high decibel conflict-ridden campaigns -- voters of Delhi showed equanimity about distinguishing between national level responsibilities and accountability for what was happening locally. And in terms of visibility of the leader who would govern Delhi, the field was left totally devoid of any contest for Arvind Kejriwal. Delhi, it seems, might compel some course corrections in the strategy of major parties and induce a fresh incentive for consolidating coalition politics on both sides of the fence -- the ruling camp as well as the opposition.

A distinct demographic feature of an overpopulated Delhi is that more than half of its population comprises migrants who, broadly speaking, came under the umbrella of the 'poor and the weak' engaged in the issues of livelihood and looking for whatever benefits the local government could bestow on them. The rest include urban middle and upper classes, the community of 'liberals' and educated youth who would either be looking for answers to their economic aspirations or, if already in jobs, responding more easily to calls for national consolidation and unity. The voting pattern of Delhi did not leave room for surprises. AAP retained its connectivity with Delhi's common man -- the bulk of the 'poor and the weak' particularly their womenfolk, supported it notwithstanding the efforts of the Bhojpuri idol, Manoj Tiwari, while the Congress vote got largely transferred to AAP making it a direct contest between BJP and AAP.

A known development was the decisive opposition to BJP put up by Muslims of Delhi -- the anti-CAA agitation using the ghost of NRC, put a seal on it. This agitation produced a Hindu backlash that was uneven -- though it was strong enough to turn many Delhiites in favour of BJP. The scare of having to 'produce documents' lingered on amongst the poor pushing them further towards AAP in Delhi. On the whole, the numbers favoured AAP but BJP gave it a fight -- victory margins for AAP were small in a large number of seats. Unsurprisingly, the Congress candidates lost their deposits in most places.

The BJP leadership swung in a massive number of campaigners but it was like an army operating without a General in the field -- Delhi should never have been a contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Kejriwal and it is good that the BJP leadership did not opt for that strategy. The polarising impact of anti-CAA stir did show up but it benefited AAP more -- by way of a pronounced Minority support -- in comparison to BJP that added non-Muslim votes to its kitty but only in a limited manner, largely because of the diverse profile of Delhi electorate. AAP continued talking of electricity, water and health -- also highlighting the free bus travel it had ordered for women -- and remained cushioned against criticism on issues of law & order and environment because these were recognised more as the areas of responsibility for the Centre in the context of Delhi.
The BJP took to a total criticism of the AAP claims and the fierceness of its campaign started making Kejriwal look like an underdog. The AAP leader knew the Muslims were firmly behind him and he also tried to soften the fallout from the fierce attack of the BJP on the opponents of CAA, by taking to Hindu symbolism and refraining from discounting the national security argument on the question of Shaheen Bagh protests or the wider issue of illegal migration. Finally, what also helped AAP was the image of Kejriwal and his colleagues as people who might be using tactical ploys but who were not corrupt themselves in the sense this word had got associated with Indian polity.

The Modi regime has to put the Delhi election behind and get on with the national economic and security agenda with speed. The promises made in the Budget should be publicly reviewed by the Finance Minister on a bimonthly basis and the schemes for youth, farmers and skill development explained in a manner that helped the people to understand them. It is necessary to specially reach out to our universities which have progressively got entangled into political controversies at the cost of pursuit of education and bring in competent hands as Vice Chancellors to provide sound administration to these centres of learning.

Law enforcement in Delhi should demonstratively improve and the police here must regulate events strictly on the basis of a professional judgement. In Jammu and Kashmir, the state administration must give out a monthly progress report on matters of development and security, preferably at a press conference. Radicalisation remains a prime threat to India's security and in line with what the CDS said in a recent public address, a strategy of de-radicalisation must be worked out through suitable programmes in the civilian sector in Kashmir and elsewhere. In the restive environ generated by protests against CAA that brought in NRC in the narrative, internal security as also the communal front would deserve a close watch.

The outcome of the Delhi Assembly poll would naturally impact national politics -- political analysts will see things from their own perspectives. Arvind Kejriwal, now keen to present his leadership in the image of a public figure without rough edges, might think of widening his horizon and anchor a broader coming together of political players for a convergence on national objectives. He has to show results in Delhi first -- he has already acknowledged the Muslim support by granting special aid to the Imams of Delhi. It is not clear what line the Congress -- that has shrunk in Delhi -- will take on the politics of the future at the national level. If history is a guide, then it would be thinking of the days of United Front governments of the Nineties -- but cognisant of its limitations this time in becoming a decisive hand behind those experiments. The ruling party at the Centre still has a clear mandate for over three years to push ahead with its agenda of governance but it would also be aware of the need to build a strong coalition around it for the future.
 

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