In determining the future of the three main contestant parties in the fray, the elections to the municipal corporations in Delhi have enormous significance so far as the capital goes. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power for the past ten years with not much to show performance wise, is extremely confident of retaining its hold and is relying heavily on the Narendra Modi magic to do wonders once again. The victory of its nominee, Manjinder Singh Sirsa in the Rajouri Garden Assembly byelection is being portrayed as an indication of the mood in the city and several analysts have already written off the Aam Aadmi Party, whose candidate not only was a distant third, but also, in the process, forfeited his deposit. The Congress, which emerged as the runner-up, is erroneously attempting to project its showing as a comeback sign at the expense of the AAP, which had swept to power in 2015, denying the grand old party even one seat in the national capital’s Assembly.
The BJP is putting its best foot forward and its efforts are backed by superior strategy and immense hard work by its cadre. The party has, so far, ensured that the focus of its campaign does not deviate from the mega status of the Prime Minister and has thus succeeded in keeping its own dismal performance in the three civic bodies under the wraps. It would be an accurate assessment that the BJP would have little chance if its decade long rule would come under close inspection and scrutiny. Therefore, to interpret the Rajouri Garden victory as a barometer to judge the people’s mood is perhaps a bit premature.
The byelection result was on expected lines. Rajouri Garden has never been an AAP variety of a seat, even though Jarnail Singh, who resigned to contest against Parkash Singh Badal from Lambi in Punjab, had secured it by a convincing margin in 2015. In 2013, the AAP had not fielded a candidate here. The constituency is dominated by Punjabis, including Sikhs, and Sirsa, thus, from the very beginning, was the potential victor. People were disillusioned with AAP for abandoning them mid-way and this became clear once the results were declared. The primary reason for the Congress coming in second was due to the family influence of its candidate, Meenakshi Chandela, who, in particular, put up a brave fight in the non Punjabi segments. The seat had been represented thrice by the DPCC president Ajay Maken and many of his colleagues were of the belief that he should have himself contested from there. The matter was compounded further when instead of appointing a known Punjabi leader as in-charge of the byelection, the Congress chose to nominate former MLA, Devendra Yadav, who happens to be unfamiliar with the dynamics of the constituency. It must have also come as a rude shock to Maken that even in the booths in the vicinity of his family home, the Congress was trounced by the BJP.
The AAP has chosen to put the byelection defeat behind it and has begun hectic campaigning for the polls to be held next Sunday. The Punjab debacle has demoralised its cadre and a chastened Arvind Kejriwal has hit the poll trail, promising to give Delhi better governance even in the civic bodies which have witnessed “unprecedented corruption and inefficiency” during the last decade. True to his style of offering sops, the Delhi Chief Minister has assured the abolition of property tax for residential houses. He has also made a strong case for his nominees by stating that it would be in the interests of Delhiwallahs to have the same party in the Assembly as well as the corporation. Delhi, in the past, has defied the national mood and has voted on a contrary manner. In 1983, the BJP’s war cry was “Karnataka, Andhra Haari Hai, Ab Dilli ki bari hai”, but people in Delhi spurned the saffron brigade and voted for the Congress. Kejriwal would hope that something similar happens this time in his favour.
The Congress is apparently swamped by its own internal dissensions and squabbles. There is an overall dissatisfaction over the distribution of tickets and several senior leaders have vocalised their resentment publicly. The Sheila Dikshit camp, or whatever is left of it, has decided to oppose Maken at every juncture. On his part, the DPCC chief has been engaged in convincing the top leadership that all was well on the ground and his opponents were playing spoilers. His supporters are of the view that the Muslims in the city would return to the party fold since they are deeply disappointed with the AAP and presume that Congress alone could curtail the BJP in Delhi. The problems within the Congress are evident from a recorded condemnation by a former MP of Rahul Gandhi whom he has described in unprintable language.
As a consequence, what is happening is that real issues concerning the functioning of the municipal bodies have taken a back seat. Caught in the web of their own problems, the AAP and the Congress are attempting to corner the BJP, which is unruffled by its own record and is seeking to come to power consecutively for the third time. Between us.