Indian politics: Implications of AAP win in Delhi by-poll

Connaught Place in Delhi is an important economic hub of the National Capital Region. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

As it was facing the problem of extinction following the rout in the local polls in Delhi state which it rules, Delhi’s ruling party Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has won a by-election for the Bawana seat by a significant 24,000 votes, leaving behind the real threat BJP and the Congress, which had hoped to enter the Delhi assembly as it ran neck and neck with AAP in the early rounds of counting.

Victory for AAP’s Ram Chander is sweeter as he defeated Ved Prakash, who had won Bawana as an AAP candidate in the assembly elections but quit the party just before crucial civic polls in March this year and joined the BJP.

Bawana seat is a reserved seat (Scheduled Caste), with a significant number of Dalit voters. The AAP succeeded in playing up BJP’s presumptive ‘anti-Dalit’ image in its favor. Even in the past, this segment of the electorate had proved to be bankable for AAP.

In fact, the Aam Aadmi Party has retained the Bawana assembly seat in Delhi in a booster shot particularly for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who has no answer yet to the shocking defeat of his party in the parliamentary and local polls.

The win is significant as AAP was also trounced by the BJP in the Delhi civic polls, only weeks after being pummeled in assembly elections in Punjab and Goa.The poll was also seen as a test of the popularity of the rival parties ahead of the 2019 national election, in which the BJP hopes win all seven Lok Sabha seats as it did in 2014.

Victory for AAP’s Ram Chander is sweeter as he defeated Ved Prakash, who had won Bawana as an AAP candidate in the assembly elections but quit the party just before crucial civic polls in March this year and joined the BJP.

AAP has demonstrated clearly as to who is the boss in Delhi- Kejriwal or Modi. The Modi-Shaw duo that dictates term to national politicians could not pierce through Delhi assembly politics of Kejriwal.

Energetic campaign

After his ambitious national runs that almost always ended in disaster, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal seems to have finally learned his lesson. And AAP’s victory in Bawana by-election by a record margin of 24,052 votes is a proof of that.

Kejriwal is back to the grassroots that catapulted him to power in 2015. He’s back to his old strategy and his greatest strength — connecting with people, especially the weaker sections and voters of rural areas, unrecognized colonies, and slum dwellers.

For a party that was trounced by the Congress in Punjab, by the BJP in MCD and by both in the Rajouri Garden by poll, the Bawana result presents an opportunity for revival. Kejriwal’s outreach in the Outer Delhi constituency speaks to his party’s base – the urban poor.

Faced with popularity crisis, the Delhi Chief Minister, his ministers, and other top party colleagues campaigned hard in Bawana, with the supremo Kejriwal camping there every Sunday for the past few weeks, asking voters to choose his party again.

During its campaigning in Bawana, AAP played up the ‘bhagora’ (deserter) factor against BJP. Ultimately, Bawana voters rejected the ‘detractor’ and BJP candidate Prakash. Besides, apart from its senior leaders, both Kejriwal and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia virtually camped in Bawana to oversee both development work as well as an election strategy

First of all, learning a lesson from its past, AAP fielded Ram Chander, a candidate who had never won any election before. He had contested the last election as a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate. During Rajouri Garden by-election, AAP had lost because the voters rejected the party for its decision to allow the then-sitting MLA Jarnail Singh to quit the seat and contest the Punjab election.

Out of the six wards in Bawana, BJP had won five in the MCD election. Immediately, after the MCD polls, AAP had set an agenda of bringing development in the unorganized colonies, JJ clusters, villages, etc. The focus was on improving the long-pending civic problems of these areas. This helped the party to reconnect with its grassroots voters. AAP’s relentless demand for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was accepted, and all the EVMs used in the Bawana by-election were equipped with VVPAT.

Delhiites have found the AAP and Kejriwal still relevant in their lives. People see AAP still better than other corrupt parties.

Huge setback for BJP

For the national ruling party BJP and PM Modi, the loss of Bawana is a big embarrassment, a land slide. Riding high on a series of victories, especially the by-election to the Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency in Delhi and the elections to the Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCD), BJP’s hyperbole failed to cut ice with Bawana voters.

The Bawana by-election was important for the BJP and PM Modi as they have to prove that people are behind the decision of the AAP MLA who quit the party and joined the BJP. It was also a prestige battle for the BJP’s Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari, who draws key support from Delhi’s “Poorvanchali” voters, made up of people from UP and Bihar. Bawana, one of Delhi’s biggest assembly constituencies, has a big presence of Poorvanchalis.

The Bawana by-poll result underscores BJP’s failure of strategy and misplaced optimism.

Why did BJP fail to corner Bawana seat? The answer looks very simple. AAP’s strategic attack on BJP failed the BJP’s Delhi assembly strategy.

PM Narendra Modi, trying to take back Delhi poll in the next poll, was said to be watching the Bawana election closely. The BJP and Modi had hoped to add a fifth seat to its kitty after snatching the Rajouri constituency from AAP in another by-election earlier this year.

Contrary to his ‘anti-Narendra Modi,’ ‘anti-BJP’ image and criticisms, Kejriwal maintained a stoic silence and restrained communication, ever since the MCD result was announced. Abandoning his strategy of attacking Modi, Kejriwal single-pointedly focused on carrying out the development of the area. An internal post-poll survey by the Pradesh Congress Committee also underlined this fact and mentioned that this would make AAP a winner.

The Delhi BJP was on a high this year after they won a resounding third term in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The MCD win balanced the scales in favour of the BJP after AAP’s 2015 sweep. But with the Bawana by-poll result, the AAP has stamped its authority on the National Capital. The BJP, which was buoyant after the MCD polls, had to settle for No two position.

For BJP’s Delhi unit, winning Bawana seat was important as well as challenging, because it had to keep pace with the spreading dominance of the party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in other parts of the country.

Keeping an eye on the Purvanchali voters, who account for almost 35 percent of the total electorate in Bawana, Delhi BJP Manoj Tiwari was placed at the forefront of the battle to woo the segment. Here too, BJP failed to anticipate the growing acceptance of AAP in the unrecognized colonies and JJ clusters, where a large number of residents belong to Purvanchal. “Many Purvanchali voters no doubt voted in favour of BJP, but not all. Considering the body of developmental work done by Kejriwal in this area, a large section voted in favour of AAP. Instead of favoring regionalism, they chose to go for the development of the area,” a resident of one of the unorganized colonies said.

Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari’s ‘Poorvanchali’ identity, which had worked during the local polls, failed this time to win all the Poorvanchali voters, as AAP emphasized on ‘development for all the residents of Bawana.’

In an astute move, the Delhi BJP fielded ex-AAP MLA Ved Prakash, who had quit AAP just before the MCD elections. Following its impressive victory in the MCD elections, the BJP was confident that its strategy of welcoming Opposition rebels in its fold and rewarding them with election tickets would pay dividends. But, it didn’t.

In fact, the strategy badly backfired. Somehow, BJP managed to end up in the second spot — during the initial rounds of counting, Congress was in the second position — in Bawana, thereby saving itself some acute embarrassment.

AAP’s victory has proved that the voters of Bawana have rejected BJP’s strategy of giving tickets to deserters and win. The message is clear from the people of Bawana — ‘if you are a detractor, we won’t accept you.’ The strategy applied by BJP has miserably failed,” said an AAP observer.

Observation: Back to people!

AAP’s win in Delhi by-poll has put the BJP and Congress in tight stop, and they will have to reschedule their anti-AAP program.

The Huge defeat suffered by AAP and Kejriwal forced them to relink themselves with the people of Delhi as the mere rhetoric of Kejriwal cannot match the high profile talks of PM Modi.

Moreover, the impact of GST has been felt by the people gradually as the process of food, and other essentials are sky rocketing with heavy taxes.

Bawana has recast the AAP and Kejriwal in the limelight, their importance in Indian politics beyond Delhi is stressed once again. A post-poll internal survey conducted by the Pradesh Congress Committee had predicted AAP’s victory in the Bawana by-election. The survey stated that AAP’s gaining margin over Congress and BJP would be due to the development work carried out by the Delhi government in the unrecognized colonies and villages in Bawana.

The Bawana by-election was seen as a crucial test of CM Kejriwal and his AAP’s popularity in the only state the party rules, after several setbacks since it swept the Delhi assembly elections in 2015.

The spectacular win by the ruling AAP in Delhi’s Bawana constituency by-election has saved the party from the embarrassment it faced after the defeat at local polls and also stop any future defections by selfish MLAs if any left in the party. In fact, no MLA would dare quit the party and join BJP or Congress because they lose their MLAs seat while the AAP candidate would win the by poll convincingly. So the CM Kejriwal and his team can concentrate on development projects and serve the Delhiites to their satisfaction. Take the people into confidence in whatever the government does or does not. Whatever deficit in faith, trust and confidence people have not must be erased.

Delhi’s victory of AAP has to do with more than Kejriwal because Delhiites want a change in the politics of Delhi but he is the centre of popular change in the capital. Delhiites supported the anti-corruption movement as people are fed with corruption groomed and pampered by both the top and richest national parties Congress and BJP and AAP for their sake and better future of their children.

Winning back the Bawana means Kejriwal is a shrewd leader Delhiites have found from among a whole lot of corrupt political rats. His decision to reconnect with the people won him the Bawana seat. However, whether or he would be able to overcome the Modi effect remains to be seen.

However honest Kejriwal maybe, his honesty cannot survive in politics without kindness. Arrogance with fellow leaders may not win votes for ever. The defeat of the popular AAP in the parliamentary poll and local polls while the AAP rules the capital state has a vital message for Kejriwal and AAP.

Apparently, Kejriwal is a powerful tool the Delhiites use to bring the necessary changes in their lives. They trust him more than anybody else. But Delhi CM should not take the Bawana victory for granted and accept it as a game of Delhiites and should try to accommodate the leaders with varying views on governance but opt for consensus policy to pursue the AAP objectives successfully.

Remember, both the Congress and BJP are after the blood of AAP!

Delhi’s victory of AAP has to do with more than Kejriwal because Delhiites want a change in the politics of Delhi but he is the centre of popular change in the capital.

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