The Aam Aadmi Party, which is in power in Delhi, appears to be in a hurry to become a national party. However, exit polls predicting a victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party are a reality check for it. The BJP is likely to repeat its 2014 success in the capital. The News18-IPSOS exit poll predicted 6-7 seats for the BJP, with the Congress possibly winning one and AAP failing to open its account.
Earlier, Arvind Kejriwal, with the AAP having won 67 out of 70 seats in the 2015 Delhi Assembly election, had started believing his party was the second-most important party in the capital. Apart from the Assembly election, the 2017 elections to the civic bodies in Delhi also led AAP to declare itself as the greater opponent of the BJP. In 2015, the fight for the throne of Delhi was three-cornered and voters picked a party that represented governance and not just the idea of an opposition. The politics of delivery and the memory of its 49-day-long-rule had then turned the AAP into a plausible alternative for both BJP and Congress supporters at the state level.
In 2017, AAP won 21 seats in North Delhi whereas the Congress raked in 16. In South Delhi, AAP got 16 and Congress only 12. In East Delhi, the tally stood at 12 and three respectively. The Congress cadre in Delhi was dwindling following Sheila Dikshit’s defeat. Subsequently, in 2015, the next biggest Congress leader in Delhi, Ajay Maken, failed to score a single seat. Earlier this year, he resigned from the post of the Delhi Congress chief and went public with his revolt, announcing that he will not contest elections unless the party stitches up an alliance with the AAP in Delhi. This desperation of leaders like Maken and PC Chacko in the Delhi unit projected the Congress as a sinking ship. Sources within the DPCC had suggested that the party was asking for a seat share ratio where both parties get an equal number of seats, while the AAP was willing to offer a 5:2 ratio.
According to sources within the Congress, AAP wanted an alliance in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, but Bhupinder Singh Hooda, veteran Congress leader, was dead against the idea. Had the new party stuck to Delhi and not been in an urgency to expand, it could have avoided the splitting of vote share with the Congress that is now likely to benefit the BJP.
AAP declared its last candidate Balbir Singh Jakhar from West Delhi, when the chances of the alliance seemed bleak. Aside from the West Delhi Seat, AAP was willing to offer Pankaj Gupta’s Chandni Chowk seat. Gupta, national secretary of the party, is said to be a reliable, stable leader whose ego wouldn’t have taken a beating if the seat was given away to a Congress candidate. Besides, the Chandni Chowk seat has traditionally been a Congress domain, except in 1977, when Sikandar Bakht won on a Janata Party ticket, when Tara Chand Khandelwal of BJP in won in 1991 and Vijay Goel won by slim margins in 1998 and 1999.
Dikshit's return led to a major dent in AAP’s Lok Sabha ambitions. Not only did the former chief minister bring a new lease of life to the party cadre, it instilled faith in the old leadership that had served the capital. Congress fought the elections with its best team – Arvinder Lovely in East Delhi, Ajay Maken in New Delhi and Sheila Dikshit in the North East. Arvind Kejriwal may be right in stating that the minority vote shifted to the Congress at the last minute.
For instance, in Jafrabad, a split in the Muslim vote had developed, which worked to the benefit of the BJP. In North East Delhi, where Dilip Pandey had built a strong campaign in the last two years, a good chunk of the 7.5 lakh Muslim voters in Mustafabad, Seelampur and Jafrabad were set to vote for the AAP because the Congress had not declared its candidate and its political heads in the capital were amiss. But as soon as Dikshit entered the field, it become clear that the grand old party was still the better and far stronger tactical vote against the Modi-led central government.
According to the CNN-News18-IPSOS survey, the Congress' decision to field Dikshit has helped in galvanising the nearly-dead party organisational structure in Delhi. The positive image of the ex-chief minister as someone who had brought in development across various sectors is helping the Congress gain vote share. Another finding of the survey is that the BJP's ploy to change its candidates in East and North West Delhi constituency is helping it minimise the impact of anti-incumbency.
In East Delhi, which is the stronghold of the BJP, Om Prakash Sharma is the sitting BJP MLA from Vishwas Nagar. Anil Bajpai, MLA from Gandhinagar, was formerly with AAP but defected to BJP. Congress candidate from East Delhi Arvinder Singh Lovely had also joined the BJP before the civic body elections in 2017 but later returned to the grand old party.
In 1967, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh had won the constituency in the first elections held to the seat. In 2014, BJP’s Maheish Girri won from here with 57,2202 votes. Interestingly, the most popular leader from the region has been BJP’s Lal Bihari Tiwari. Dikshit lost to him in 1998 and it was only after his death that the Congress had made inroads into East Delhi. The BJP waited for AAP to field its candidates. Atishi, AAP’s face in East Delhi was, according to sources, being asked to contest from New Delhi. However, she declined and chose East Delhi instead. The BJP, to counter Atishi’s appeal among the educated classes, fielded cricketer and celebrity Gautam Gambhir from here. Earlier, there were speculations that Gambhir would contest from New Delhi. In North West Delhi, to counter the relatively lesser-known Rajesh Lilothia of the Congress and another hyper local face Gugan Ranga, the BJP unexpectedly brought in celebrity singer Hans Raj Hans.
The survey also found that the appeal from BJP to vote to elect Modi as prime minister again is partly shielding the party from anti-incumbency (against the existing MPs). Many voters were highly critical of the sitting MPs Manoj Tiwari (North East Delhi), Parvesh Verma (West Delhi) and Meenakshi Lekhi (New Delhi), but made it clear that this is a national election and they are voting to elect Modi as prime minister. One even described the local MP faces as collateral damage.
If the exit poll results are to be believed, Kejriwal’s attempt to insert the statehood agenda into the national elections hasn’t worked, and the Congress party remains the biggest opponent to the BJP in the capital.
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Updated Date: May 20, 2019 20:43:53 IST