BJP Will Find it Tough to Upset AAPlecart in Delhi but National Issues Will Resonate in Polls

The political narrative of the Delhi assembly polls 2020 is most likely to be different from the 2015 edition. The polls, particularly after those in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand last year, have gained substantial importance because many analysts believe it could be a referendum on either the Narendra Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), or the governance model of Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi vs that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre. The fight is largely going to be on the performance of the Delhi government with the nationalist rhetoric of the BJP which does not have a chief ministerial face to take on Arvind Kejriwal.

In 2015, local issues along with corruption had dominated the electoral scene in Delhi. But this time there could be an amalgam of local and national issues, particularly with protests raging in several parts of the country, including the capital, against CAA and NRC. The ruling AAP has taken a stand on it. But the big question is, what would be the national significance of the Delhi polls?

According to Hilal Ahmed, associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, “It all depends on two things: one is that in the post-2014 era, elections, even if for a municipality or panchayat, have become a national issue. The nationalisation of electoral politics is something which is a new phenomenon that has emerged. The Modi-led BJP has created this impression that every election is an endorsement of their existence and policies. So in that context, certainly it is, and it will be, an important election.”

The second reason why this election is going to be very significant in terms of national politics, Ahmed said, is the timing. “The election is happening when CAA has been passed by Parliament and there is a huge protest going on against it. It would be important to note how anti-CAA protests contribute to electoral politics and whether Delhi would have a direct impact on national politics or not. The BJP has already decided to use the Citizenship Amendment Act as a new agenda of its politics. After Babri Masjid, triple talaq, pitching Uniform Civil Code, they have already exhausted the potential of all the components of the central Hindutva agenda since 1990.”

Though Delhi is not a full state, it has political significance of its own, Ahmed said. “In this context, this election will also decide the fate of a party which claims to be a champion of alternative politics. The party has started behaving like a normal political party in terms of virtually everything, from ticket distribution to projecting a star campaigner. So this is the third thing which will determine the electoral system of ours, whether every party has to follow certain unwritten norms of politics or not,” said Ahmed.

On the question of issues likely to dominate the political scene, he said, “It is an amalgamation of both. CAA is a national issue and there is no doubt about it. The BJP agenda was that they could pass the law and use it in Delhi against Kejriwal. But what has happened now that they had not expected this kind of reaction coming out from civil society. That was quite unprecedented.”

Ahmed said a comparison of Delhi government’s work with that of any other state government throws up remarkable differences. “If CAA was not an issue and no such protests were taking place, the BJP would have been in a better position than now. I don’t think Modi’s magic or CAA, in any case, was going to determine the outcome.”

However, according to Afroz Alam, associate professor and head of the department of political science at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Delhi welcomed politics beyond identity lines in 2015, focusing mostly on basic governance issue as the prime agenda. “We must acknowledge that in 2015, Delhi’s electorate was not voting for a party but the movement against corruption,” he said.

“There was an excitement among voters the way one may have felt in 1951 while voting for the Congress. Be that as it may, the 2020 election is no different from any other election. In my view, it is going to be a dull election, not only because of the missing excitement of the voters but also the lack of competitiveness. Equally, there is neither anti nor pro-incumbency feeling nor there is visible anger among the voters. It’s going to be a regional election, with the feeling of ‘Kejriwal vs Who?’ The aura of Narendra Modi is reserved for national election only. The high voltage majoritarian policy decision of the Centre like criminalisation of triple talaq, removal of article 370 or CAA may help the BJP gain a few more per cent votes and some seats, but it will not be able to dislodge AAP from power. Similarly, Congress has nothing to lose from what it had already lost.”

Most pre-poll surveys have given a comfortable edge to AAP over BJP, but many political analysts believe that the saffron party will push hard to upset the applecart.

(The author is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal)