Editor's note: This article was originally published on 8 February, 2020. It is being republished in view of the Delhi Assembly election results that are expected on Tuesday.
The counting of votes of the Delhi Assembly election will be conducted on Tuesday, and it will soon be clear if the Aam Aadmi Party gets another shot at power, or the Bharatiya Janata Party finally wins power in the state after a gap of 22 years.
Exit polls have been unanimous in predicting that the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP will storm back to power. However, the BJP launched an aggressive, no-holds barred campaign in the final two weeks of the campaign, and many had said that the saffron party seemed to narrowing the gap. A live tracker by CVoter indeed showed that towards the end of the campaign, the BJP appeared to be giving the AAP a run for its money, but that the late surge may not be enough to oust the incumbent government
The Congress fielded its leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to attack the AAP and the BJP; the saffron party partly relied on prime minister's speeches in both Houses of Parliament to reach out to the voters and partly entrusted Home Minister Amit Shah and Delhi BJP leaders to lead the charge and AAP, on the other hand, trusted Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia to hold the fort.
The AAP's key plank appeared to be development, the BJP's nationalism and CAA, while Congress settled for attacking the former two on almost all counts.
But overall, this may well have been the most acrimonious and vicious campaign the National Capital has ever seen as politicians stooped to new lows to grab power. From communalism, instigating speeches, hate, divisive narrative to personal attacks, nothing was off the table in the throes of the campaign.
Campaign gets dirty in Delhi
BJP ups nationalistic fervour, turns to Shaheen Bagh to polarise elections
Looking to capture power after a gap of 22 years, the BJP mounted its one of the most aggressive campaigns in the Delhi Assembly polls so far, with Shah leading the saffron charge fuelled by its planks of Hindutva and nationalism, and its strident opposition to anti-CAA protest in Shaheen Bagh. The BJP turned the heat on its rivals, primarily the AAP, over the Shaheen Bagh protests, and its leaders are of the view that their strong stand against the protestors have put the party in the reckoning for power in the National Capital after it appeared to be "down and out" only months back.
In their bid to rally their supporters, several BJP leaders made controversial and even incendiary remarks against their rivals, prompting the Election Commission to take serious actions like barring Union minister Anurag Thakur and MP Parvesh Verma from campaigning.
Verma in a public meeting termed the Delhi chief minister a "terrorist", while Thakur had exhorted a crowd to shoot down the traitors at an election rally in Rithala. Incidentally, merely days after Thakur's incendiary speech, two shooters showed up at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh protests. However, no official link to Thakur's speech was made. On the contrary, a police officer deliberately leaked to the media that the accused who showed up with a gun at Shaheen Bagh was once linked with AAP, which has become the newest flashpoint between BJP and the ruling party. The cop in question has been barred from election duty by the poll panel.
Meanwhile, Shah, who spearheaded the party's whirlwind campaign, sought to focus on nationalistic, Hindutva pitch by targeting the AAP and the Congress on issues like abrogation of Article 370, Ram temple, triple talaq and protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in his speeches. Addressing a rally in Kondli in east Delhi, Shah said the polls were a contest between two ideologies and results will be a shocker to everyone.
His trademark appeal to the voters was to defeat the AAP and the Congress accusing them of supporting tukde-tukde gang and support Modi who was "safeguarding" the country.
Shaheen Bagh was another flashpoint with BJP leaders attempting to demonise protesters. One leader alleged the protests were part of a well-thought-out conspiracy, while another claimed that perhaps it was a breeding ground for suicide bombers; another said that the women for protesting braving cold for a plate of biryani and Rs 500.
AAP sticks to development plank but occasionally rises to the bait
AAP largely stuck to the development plank, focusing on the work done in Delhi and the promises made for the next five years. It made a point in not challenging BJP on nationalism and avoiding personal attacks against prime minister Modi, who still commands an enviable fan following. However, the party occasionally did rise to the bait, like in the matter of Shaheen Bagh shooter being linked to the AAP.
Addressing a press conference, Kejriwal said that if Baisala was even remotely connected to his party then he should be given a "double punishment". "I am not aware of his (Kapil Baisala's ties) with any political party. If he is even remotely connected to the AAP, he should be given double punishment. There should be no compromise on national security," he said. Attacking Shah, Kejriwal said that sending police officers for a press conference exposed his "ill-intent".
Within a year of its formation, AAP had won enough seats in the Delhi Assembly election of 2013 to form a short-lived minority government with Congress support. In the next election of 2015, it went on to win a sweeping mandate.
But the party tried to counter the vitriolic campaign by subdued attacks. Kejriwal, for example, played big Parvesh Varma's 'terrorist' remark against him. The AAP held silent marches against the BJP in all 70 constituencies for three days to protest against Verma's remarks. The party also launched a door-to-door campaign, asking voters to support Kejriwal if they believed he is a "son of Delhi" and vote for the BJP if they feel he is a "terrorist".
Congress campaign pales in comparison but Rahul, Priyanka make last-ditch efforts
The Congress' campaign did not match the vigour of its opponents.
However, as polling day drew closer, the party jumped into action with former prime minister Manmohan Singh addressing a rally in Rajouri Garden on Tuesday while Rahul and his sister Priyanka addressed public meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Rahul launched a scathing attack on Narendra Modi, saying the prime minister does not want the youth to get employment as it works like oxygen for his politics.
Rahul said there was no need for the prime minister to give lessons on nationalism and he should explain why was he not able to provide employment to the youth. He said before Modi came to power in 2014, there was no Hindu-Muslim divide in the country from 2004-2014 but then "he comes from Gujarat and spreads poison".
"The youth now does not know what he has in store for the future. He has fear in his heart. Narendra Modi does not want the youth to get employment because unemployment is oxygen for his politics," he said.
Rahul also hit out at Shah, saying that people should not listen to him as his speeches contain "only trash".
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attacked BJP leaders, saying their character can be defined by the kind of slogans they raise and claimed that the AAP was copying former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit's development model.
She also accused Modi and Kejriwal of being "hungry for publicity".
"Slogans tell character. Those who worked in the nation's interest can be identified by their slogans. Our (Congress) slogans were 'Jai jawan, jai kisan', 'Mai yuva hoon', 'Mera ek sapna hai', 'Aaram haram hai', 'Roti, kapda, makaan'," the Congress leader said.
"Their (BJP's) slogans are 'Goli maro; khoon se tilak karo, boli nahi goli. Ye desh jodne wale nare hain'? (Are these slogans in favour of bringing the country together)," she said at a poll rally in Chandni Chowk.
With inputs from PTI