NEW DELHI, Dec 7: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) managed to edge out the BJP from the prestigious Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in an election that turned out to be much closer than most of the exit polls predicted with the saffron party despite being facing anti-incumbency factor still managing to win more than 100 seats in the 250-member civic body.
For the first time unseating the powerful BJP that claims itself to be the largest political party in the world, the only the decade-old AAP won 134 seats, eight above the majority as against the BJP’s 104, a not-so-bad performance after 15 years of continuous rule, but down from 181 in 2017, while the Congress slide continued ending up with just nine seats, down from 77 in 2012 elections and 31 in 2017, and its vote share slid from 21 to 12 per cent. The AAP had won only 48 seats in the last elections.
The AAP office saw massive celebrations with supporters dancing to dhol beats, and kids dressed as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The office had kept balloons and celebratory posters ready since morning. AAP leaders had gone into a huddle as the counting threw up a contest much tighter than the AAP sweep predicted by exit polls.
This AAP win is the first time it has unseated the BJP in any election. Its wins in Delhi have either been against the Congress or a vote of confidence while in power already. In Punjab early this year, it again won against the Congress. Party leader Sanjay Singh pointed to this, “The BJP would always say AAP has only defeated Congress. Today, Arvind Kejriwal has given them an answer.”
Though the BJP has not formed the Delhi state government in the past 24 years, its control over MCD remained strong through Congress and AAP governments. Even when the AAP won a record 67 of 70 seats in the 2015 assembly polls, the BJP, two years later, retained the MCD.
The AAP and BJP, both currently controlling parts of Delhi’s administration through state and central governments, saw this as a prestige battle. These were the first civic elections after the MCD — divided into three, area-wise, around 10 years ago — was reunified and the wards redrawn after the latest term of the BJP ended early this year. Over 1,300 candidates were in the contest.
Though it was just a civic body elections, the BJP in the campaign had gone all-out seeking votes in the name of the prime minister Narendra Modi and even getting Modi to hand over keys of some slum rehab flats only a few days before the poll dates were announced and also deployed union ministers and chief ministers of the BJP-ruled states besides a large number of national leaders.
Soon after the party’s victory, the AAP leaders gathered at the national capital where the Delhi chief minister and the party chief Arvind Kejriwal sought the Prime Minister’s blessings to address the city’s civic concerns. “We have to end corruption, we have to clean Delhi… I am thankful to those who voted for us. For those who did not vote for us, we will get their concerns addressed first,” he promised.
“I appeal to the Centre and ask for Prime Minister Modi’s blessings to make Delhi better,” the Delhi chief minister further asserted, as he told those winning from AAP: “After the victory, you’re no longer just a party member, you belong to the ward and the civic body. We have to work together. Delhi has shown that issues like health and education are critical too.” Earlier in a tweet, Kejriwal wrote in Hindi. “Thanks to the people of Delhi for this grand victory and many congratulations to all. Now all of us together have to make Delhi clean and beautiful.”
The AAP prepared since early last year. It kept its pitch directly on the mounting garbage issue: “We’ve improved things under the state, now let us take care of sanitation too.” The slogan “Kejriwal’s government, Kejriwal’s corporator” rivalled the BJP’s similar pitch of “Modi’s double engine” — both building on their top leaders’ faces.
The BJP made promises of housing, and pressed on corruption charges on several AAP ministers. The Congress used these to take digs at the AAP. But Mr Kejriwal said his “shaandaar” (glorious) work as chief minister won’t be defeated by “bogus charges” and “misuse of central agencies.”
The Delhi election was being fought in parallel with assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, both the states under the BJP rule, where the counting of votes would be taken up on Thursday. In the two assembly poll results scheduled for tomorrow, AAP is predicted to make some dent in BJP’s vote share in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Kejriwal has said winning 15-20 per cent vote in Gujarat would be a big achievement for a party that only last month celebrated 10 years of its existence. In Himachal, it all but abandoned its campaign as energies were concentrated in Delhi and Gujarat.
At the mohalla level in Delhi, AAP’s victory would mean it has more works under its control. Of these, garbage-collection was a main election plank. Large tracts of roads and streetlights, too, fall under the MCD, as do primary schools. This means Arvind Kejriwal can gather more points for his “Delhi model of governance” ahead of bigger battles. But this can mean more bad blood between the AAP and the BJP-ruled Centre, which continues to control land, police and some other key matters in the national capital through its Lieutenant Governor.