How Delhi voted on Saturday will be clear in three days, but already the tumultous run up to the polls has thrown up several interesting pointers. The country’s capital is always under intense media glare, both domestic and foreign. And Delhi is a special state because it can expose the Central government’s underbelly like no other state can. If the rendra Modi juggerut grinds to a stop in Delhi after its truimphant march through several states, it will cause the BJP a lot of embarrassment. Despite the NDA’s large majority in Parliament, an Arvind Kejriwal–led Delhi government is an real possibility — with most opinion and exit polls giving the AAP a significant edge. This can create enough distractions and hurt the Modi government where it hurts the most. After his much publicised attacks on Robert Vadra, Mukesh Ambani and the Adani group, Kejriwal may now target the Sangh Parivar, the extremist elements of which have already caused Prime Minister Modi enough discomfiture. Whether the AAP succeeds in making a comeback or not, Arvind Kejriwal is sure to be a permanent fixture on the streets of Delhi with his uncompromising agitatiol agenda.
In earlier state elections like Maharashtra, Harya and Jharkhand, the BJP did well with the Modi magic, while local leaders hardly figured in the scheme of things. But in Delhi, the presidential style of campaigning of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has been repeated with an important difference. Against Arvind Kejriwal as the undisputed face of the AAP, the BJP first drafted Kiran Bedi but filly had to rely on a Modi blitzkrieg in the last few days on the campaign trail. Will the charisma of a strong leader like rendra Modi be sufficient to sway voters, or will a ‘leader of the masses’ like Kejriwal articulating local issues, filly win the day? Whether persolity–based elections are here with us to stay or not will be clear after the Delhi poll results are out. What the campaigning has brought out clearly is that apart from policies and programmes, a political party cannot afford to lose its voter connect. That the BJP could not project its Delhi leadership is a worrying aspect in this context. It remains to be seen whether its move to import Kiran Bedi as one of the inheritors of An Hazare’s anti–corruption mantle, will prove enough to neutralise Kejriwal’s challenge.
With the withering away of the traditiol leftist parties, some political observers also see the rise of the neo–Left with AAP’s emergence on the political scene. The AAP has promised further cuts in electricity and water bills, reduction in Value Added Tax, ensuring civic amenities in slums, resettlement colonies and uuthorised colonies and crackdown on corruption. If its promises strike a chord with voters, it will prove once again that Delhites are no longer content to live under the shadow of a Central government with the state government acting as mere handmaiden. Denizens of the country’s capital are battling with a plethora of local issues, which they want to be addressed with the highest priority. It will be interesting if the BJP mages to counter this with Modi’s all–India perso, or Amit Shah’s proven expertise with last minute tactics and booth magement to mobilise core voters. But another political force that seems to be in endless freefall is the Congress, and most pollsters do not believe the former ruling party will be able to turn the corner in Delhi. In fact, there is intense speculation in political circles about how the traditiol Congress votebank splintered this time to align with the BJP or the AAP. Did the lower income groups, the Muslims and SC–ST–OBC bloc filly throw their lot with the AAP, did the youth and middle class electorate repose its faith in BJP as in 2014? The answers will be out on Tuesday, but the larger issue remains. As a small state, Delhi has been on the fast track to development for more than fifteen years now. But it is not yet a full–fledged state, and in particular has no control over law and order which is still under the Union Home ministry. This has hurt Delhi’s image no end, earning epithets like the country’s ‘crime capital’. Whether Delhi now turns inward with local issues and goes on a collision course with the Centre, remains to be seen.