In Delhi's 2020 Match, It’s Arvind Kejriwal’s Dilemma Versus Narendra Modi’s Dole

With the nomination process done, the roadmap of ensuing polls for the Delhi Assembly has been unveiled. If someone thought that rivals BJP and Congress were in any mood to give a walkover to the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the starting point of this race to power suggests differently.

In their selection of candidates, both the BJP and the Congress have reposed confidence in the ability of the soldier at the ground level, the party candidate. Take a close look at the list of candidates and it becomes quite evident that there aren’t any seats where the two older parties have fielded a reluctant person.

The best case in point is the fielding of Delhi BJP Yuva Morcha president Sunil Yadav and former Delhi NSUI president Romesh Sabharwal from the New Delhi seat against chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. The selection of the two has stolen from the CM the opportunity of turning his personal battle with a prominent face into a ‘Battle for Delhi’, which he himself converted the 2013 polls into by taking on then chief minister Sheila Dikshit.

Second, both Yadav and Sabharwal have come up through the traditional path of political progress, graduating from student politics. Both belong to the New Delhi constituency and have their respective pockets of influence, which could put Kejriwal’s personal battle to some test.

The actual battle of Delhi would be contested in the hinterlands of the unauthorised colonies where Kejriwal’s strategy of power subsidy is pitted against the BJP’s dole of regularisation of the unauthorised colonies. While Kejriwal has issued a ‘guarantee card’ assuring that his government would continue to subsidise living in Delhi, the BJP’s push for a three-tier (municipal, state and centre) government is a clear indication that the process of regularisation would stop if the party failed to occupy the seat of governance at the Players’ Building, the Delhi Secretariat.

Of the 1.46 crore voters, 33.5 percent are Purvanchlais and a recognisable percentage of Uttarakhandis spread largely across the areas that comprise the unauthorised colonies of Delhi. For long, the BJP had ignored these voters depending on its traditional Punjabi-Vaishya vote banks. However, since the drubbing in 2015 Vidhan Sabha polls, there is a perceptible change in its outlook with a known Bhojpuri matinee idol -- Manoj Tiwari -- as the party boss in Delhi.

The Purvanchali community is today spread over 30 assembly seats living in the unauthorised colonies. In 2015, Arvind Kejriwal decided to cross the Rubicon and fielded Purvanchalis in large numbers. As known, in the outgoing Vidhan Sabha, there are 13 MLAs from among the migrants from eastern UP and Bihar, with Gopal Rai, a minister in the Kejriwal government; Sanjay Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP; and Dilip Pandey and Somnath Bharti, prominent faces of the party.

The BJP, too, this time in alliance with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, has fielded 10 candidates from the migrant communities -- eight from Purvanchal and two from Uttarakhand. With a Manoj Tiwari at the helm, the distribution of tickets should effectively counter the charge against the BJP being a Punjabi-Vaishya party.

Almost a similar strategy has been followed by the Congress in the alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to woo migrant voters. The difference being that the Congress list also features a few Muslims, whereas none from the Muslim community have found a place in the BJP list.

There also is a Shaheen Bagh sub-plot to the Delhi poll story. The continued protests by members of the minority community are somewhat helping the BJP in keeping its Hinduvta agenda and polarization of votes alive. Arvind Kejriwal’s reluctance to stand up firmly for the protestors at Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University may benefit the Congress in Muslim-dominated seats. There are around eight to 10 such seats in the city.

The dilemma for Kejriwal is immense on the matter, as sitting on a dharna with Muslims could prove counter-productive vis-à-vis his Hindu support base. The Congress can take the chance of going the whole hog as it has nothing much at stake, whereas Kejriwal has a throne to lose. A loss which the AAP cannot afford as it would mean fall from the precipice to a bottomless pit.

To counter such situations, Kejriwal has, over the past five years, tried to develop a dedicated cadre benefitting them financially through ‘volunteer’ jobs in the schemes like the odd-even plan, bus marshals and Mohallah Clinics among others. He has taken this ‘benefit politics’ to a larger section of voters through subsidies in power, water and bus travel charges. His government has done this by mostly diverting funds meant for the civic maintenance and infrastructure development.

The BJP’s detractors are citing the party’s defeat in Jharkhand and comparatively poor performance in the assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra to predict doom for it in the assembly polls in the national capital, a repeat of the 2015 Vidhan Sabha polls when the Modi charisma failed to charm Delhi voters.

Today, more than the Prime Minister’s charisma, as mentioned earlier, it’s his dole of regularising the unauthorised colonies which could act as a counter to AAP’s politics of subsidy. And not to forget, the BJP did not do really badly in Maharashtra and Haryana given five years of anti-incumbency against their state governments.

The same poll machinery is at work in Delhi too, they do not have an anti-incumbency factor to counter and have the motivation to push the Hindu agenda in the national’s capital.

(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst. Views are personal)