Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday formally announced that the Aam Admi Party (AAP) will raise the subject of statehood for Delhi as the prime issue in campaigning for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. The move is seen as an attempt by AAP to evoke regional sentiments in Delhi at a time when it is pitted against two national parties in the polls.
A day before Kejriwal announced his party's agenda, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had turned the Lok Sabha election in Delhi into a triangular contest among the Congress, BJP and AAP by declaring that his party would have no alliance with AAP in the National Capital. This defused all speculation of the two parties entering a seat-sharing agreement and taking on the BJP in a two-way contest in Delhi.
The decision to contest the election on the plank of a purely local subject like full statehood is being seen as AAP's attempt to play the regional card and try to get better positioned than the national parties.
At the press conference on Tuesday, Kejriwal said: "Four years ago, Delhi voted for us. In the past four years, we did our best to deliver good work in fields that were within our jurisdiction. In the works related to schools, hospitals, mohalla clinics, water supply, electricity, roads, sewerage and drains, we delivered, despite all hindrances in our path. We even had to hold a sit-in protest for 10 days at the Lieutenant-Governor's house to make these projects happen. But there is so much we cannot do until and unless Delhi is given the status of a state."
Saying that women in Delhi suffer because of its half statehood, the chief minister said, "Women in Delhi feel unsafe because the trade of illegal drugs and alcohol has become rampant. Cases of theft and robbery are also on the rise. The police do not listen to them. Whom can they go to? Their chief minister has no power over the police. The Delhi Police falls under the jurisdiction of the home minister and prime minister, but they don't have the time to meet people."
He also promised 85 percent reservation for residents of Delhi in Delhi government jobs and colleges if the National Capital was granted full statehood. Kejriwal said his government would also establish new colleges for local students, regularise the temporary employees in various departments of the Delhi government and stop sealing buildings violating construction norms if it became a full state.
Significantly, full statehood for Delhi is an issue that both the Congress and BJP have dropped from their electoral agenda.
Recently, Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikshit had said, "We can't say what kind of funds Delhi will be left with if it becomes another state. At present, we get funding from the Centre easily because it is a Union Territory and also the National Capital. But the same won't be guaranteed if it becomes a full-fledged state."
The BJP's manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha election included granting Delhi full statehood, but it did not feature in the saffron party's 2015 Delhi Assembly manifesto.
It is unclear how much AAP's central poll plank will resonate with the residents of Delhi, but it certainly sets the political outfit apart from the other two parties in the triangular contest.
AAP had won a historic mandate in the 2015 Assembly election in Delhi with 54.3 percent of the vote share. The BJP had garnered 32.2 percent of the votes and the Congress, merely 9.7 percent.
Before AAP emerged as a key player in Delhi politics in 2013, the contest in elections in the National Capital was mostly limited to the BJP and Congress. In the 2008 Assembly polls, the Congress formed government after winning the election with 40.3 percent of the votes and the BJP, 36.34 percent.
Looking at these figures, it is evident that most of AAP's vote bank came from the Congress pool in 2015.
Even though the Congress had gradually revived itself in national politics then, the trend of its vote share began to reverse rapidly. This reverse trend was clearly visible in the 2017 election for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, when AAP won a disastrous 26 percent of the votes and the Congress an even lower 21 percent; the BJP had swept the polls with 36 percent of the vote share.
It is no wonder that AAP made repeated attempts to secure a pre-poll alliance with the Congress.
After the Congress spurned the AAP, the Kejriwal-led party is left with no option but to re-position itself as a regional party in Delhi, one that aims to amplify the concerns of the region on a national platform like the Lok Sabha and thus appear closer to Delhi-ites than the national parties in the run.
Moreover, the Congress may have decided to not ally with AAP in the hope that its voters return. We now need to wait to see whether the party reaps the benefits of this hope, or whether it results in another disaster like the municipal corporation polls because of division of non-BJP votes.
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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2019 11:35:46 IST