February 07, 2015

DELHI POLLS 2014 - Part V


I am pretty sure that most of you will agree with me when I say that the elections to Delhi will be the most keenly fought electoral contest following the General polls 2014. The campaign was as bitter as it was intense. Unlike the other recently concluded state polls where the Congress put up a rather feeble resistance to the saffron juggernaut, the BJP seems to have found a worthy opponent in the AAP in the national capital. The AAP leadership as well as the thousands of volunteers and karya kartas working for Kejriwal's outfit deserve a round of applause for resurrecting the party from the shambles after the thumping that it got in May last year all thanks to morchas, bike rallies and nukkad nataks (street dramas) that they have undertaken in the last two months. Of course, the saffronists too made their work easier after a series of electoral blunders that saw them lose a lot of ground to their opponents as the polling date approached. In fact, opinion polls suggest that AAP may actually hold an edge over the BJP; meanwhile, the INC's situation continues to be pathetic. The impact that these polls will have will be huge and here are the points to watch out for as the EVMs are opened and the results are announced this Tuesday:

(1) The AAP's Battle For Survival: One can understand why the Delhi polls is so important for the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and its chief. After being demolished in the General polls and being wiped out of Delhi, Kejriwal & Co. have put all on the line. While many expected them to take a defensive line in wake of the May 2014 drubbing, the party cadre worked relentlessly to consolidate their substantial vote base amongst the low income workers and migrants who have traditional been Congress loyalists, besides luring a sizable chunk of traders away from the saffron camp. In spite of the fact that several of its former leaders have crossed over to the opposing camp, the AAP has fought the BJP tooth and nail using limited means and through unconventional and innovative methods, making sure that their vision of a corruption-free Delhi is put across to the electorate. While highlighting their performance during 49 day long government that the party had formed with the outside support of the Congress, Kejriwal has attacked the NDA regime at the Center for failing to do anything for the people of the capital in spite of being in power for the last seven months.

It is a 'do or die' scenario for the the former IRS officer and his outfit. A win would herald a second innings that would help it expand its support base beyond Delhi whereas a defeat could mean an abrupt end to AAP's political fortunes, making it one of the many parties that promised big things but could never deliver anything substantial. In politics, it is rare that a party gets an opportunity to make a comeback and it remains to be seen if Kejriwal and his outfit can grab this golden opportunity with both hands and make the most out of it, failing which, it could well sink into the oblivion.

(2) The End of Modi Mania? The BJP just had the best year in its three decade long history. Besides winning a clear majority on the floor of the Lok Sabha this May, it emerged victorious in Haryana and Jharkhand. In Maharashtra where it fought the polls without its ally - the Shiv Sena, the saffron outfit emerged as the single largest party, winning nearly twice as many seats as its friend turned foe turned friend. In Jammu Kashmir too, the party fared well, picking up 25 seats, all coming from the Hindu dominated Jammu region. It is clear that the persona of the PM Narendra Modi as a pro-development, no non-sense leader has largely been responsible for this wave of support to the BJP across most parts of the country, including those where the party has had minimal historical presence. As the Modi juggernaut has rolled, the BJP has been able to snatch state after state from the Congress and other weak regional satraps who seem to have been blown away.

However, the big question is whether the Kejriwal would be the man who could put a brake on the Modi bandwagon which till a month back looked unstoppable. Opinion polls suggest that the fight for the capital could be a photo finish between the two main contenders - the BJP and the AAP. The PM has addressed several rallies in Delhi where he tore into the Kejriwal's 'dismal' record while in office and asked him to join the Naxalites. On the other hand, the AAP chief's rallies too saw massive turnouts, much more than that of BJP's CM nominee Kiran Bedi. In fact, regional satraps including Mamta Bannerjee who are gearing up to fight the saffronists in their own backyards have put their weight behind the AAP, an indication of how important that results of Delhi 2015 could be on the Indian political landscape.

There has been a certain section in the media that believes that the Delhi polls are a referendum on Modi. In my opinion, such an analysis is a little far fledged. While the national capital is a cosmopolitan city, the voting patterns here, as in many of the other states and cities across the country cannot be extrapolated to the country as a whole. Of course, while a loss would be a blow to the PM, a victory will be the crowning glory in what has been a superb 14 month period for him and his party.

(3) Can 'Master Strategist' Amit Shah deliver yet again: Though the BJP fought the polls under the leadership of Narendra Modi, it was his Man Friday, Amit Shah was the real architect of the party's amazing tally in May last year. As the chief of the saffron outfit's campaign in the mega state of Uttar Pradesh, he ran an efficient campaign using Modi's persona, flaring up communal sentiments and striking deals with various socio-political organizations, thereby helping the BJP and its ally - the Apna Dal win 73 of the 80 parliamentary seats, a feat unparalleled in the country's electoral history. While the Gandhis and the Yadavs were reduced to their pocket boroughs, Mayawati's BSP was wiped off. As such, it did not come as a surprise when the former Gujarat Home Minister was made the national party president last year.

The move has certainly paid off. In Haryana, he decided to ditch the HJC and the saffron camp still managed to go past the half way mark at 45, forming its first government in the state's electoral history. In Jharkhand, he decided to play safe, forging an alliance with the Mahato's AJSU; the move paid off again with the coalition beating the Congress and the JMM. In the big state of Maharashtra, he took the risk of breaking ties with the Shiv Sena as the saffron allies failed to reach an agreeable seat sharing formula. As the results were announced, Maharashtra had its first BJP CM with members of the Sena joining his cabinet. Though his ambitious 'Mission 44+' did not exactly materialize in J&K, the BJP still win 25 seats, the most it had won ever. No wonder, he is considered to be the best electoral strategist in the country.

Unfortunately for him and his party, Shah's magic seems to be waning in Delhi this time around with the BJP committing one blunder after another. At the beginning of the campaign, the party appointed Satish Upadhyay as the head of its campaign instead of making Dr Harshavardhan its face in the state. With the AAP growing from strength to strength, the saffronists made Kejriwal's former colleague in the anti-corruption movement Kiran Bedi its CM candidate. Although the move was hailed by some as a master stroke, as days went by, it became clear that the former IPS officer failed to match the former Delhi CM's charisma at least in the political arena. In a desperate attempt to bolster the party's fortunes ahead of the polling day, the party president got in a host of bigwigs including the PM, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and over 100 MPs to canvass for the party's nominees. Will this last ditch attempt pay off or will Delhi be a blot on Shah's rather envious report card so far.

(4) Kiran Bedi's political future: While there could be doubts whether the Delhi polls is a referendum on AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal or PM Narendra Modi, one thing is clear. The way the national capital votes will decide for sure, the fate of one politician - BJP's Kiran Bedi. The former tough cop who was with Anna Hazare in the anti-corruption movement is now in the saffron camp. In fact, her appointment as the BJP's CM candidate reportedly sparked infighting amongst the numerous camps that the Delhi unit of the party finds itself in. Though the AAP chief termed this as a move to shield Modi from the blame of the defeat, many thought that Bedi's clean image would compliment the wave in support of the BJP and help it go past the half way mark. Unfortunately, Bedi has not managed to 'set the stage on fire'. A defeat to the BJP would mean the end of her political ambitions though she is expected to easily win her constituency of Krishna Nagar, the stronghold of BJP leader Dr. Harshavardhan. A victory though would make her the CM of the capital.

(5) The fate of the Congress: The 'bad times' for the grand old party seems to never get over. As if the spate of electoral defeats over the last year were not enough, the INC seems to be headed to a third position finish in the Delhi state polls too. Clearly, the move to get in former Union Minister Ajay Maken has not worked the way the loyalists would have thought. The Opinion Polls indicate that the Congress may in fact perform worse than it did in December 2013 when it was reduced to just eight seats. This would be a massive blow to the party and its supporters. Following the rout in the General Polls last year, it seems that the party has not yet been able to re-invent itself or to put it in other words, the electorate has still not forgiven the party for the mistakes that it committed during its decade long regime at the Centre. Anything more than 8 would at least indicate that the Congress has improved its position somewhat whereas a tally less than that would raise serious questions over the party's future. In that case, the voices against Rahul Gandhi and his coterie of supporters will only grow stronger and many heavyweights might actually quit the 'sinking ship' like former minister Jayanti Natarajan did a few days ago.

For all posts in this series on Delhi Elections 2015, click here (Link)