The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stunned everyone on Tuesday with an overwhelming victory in the Delhi assembly polls, setting up a second stint for Arvind Kejriwal as chief minister and leaving the BJP licking its wounds in the city from which it rules the country.
The AAP was expected to bag as many as 67 seats of the 70-member House, going far beyond the most optimistic exit polls, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was left bruised in a distant second place with wins projected for it in just three seats. The Congress drew a blank.
An exuberant Kejriwal, 46, described his party’s comprehensive success as a “people’s victory”. Even before the counting of votes ended, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted he had congratulated Kejriwal and assured him of “complete support in the development of Delhi”.
"This is the people's victory. My first priority will be to end ‘rishvatkhori’ (corruption)," said a beaming Kejriwal, who will be eager to set aside memories of his hasty resignation after just 49 days in office during his first stint.
The 46-year-old former tax officer-turned-politician, who founded the AAP two years ago, described himself as an “ordinary man” and said: “I promise to be the janta's chief minister and end corruption and VIP culture."
Former police officer Kiran Bedi, who was brought in at virtually the last minute by the BJP to take on Kejriwal, was defeated in the saffron party’s stronghold of Krishna Nagar by an AAP candidate.
"I want to thank BJP leadership which reposed trust in me," said Bedi after her defeat. "I apologise to every one...I could not fulfill their expectation."
"Full marks to Arvind (Kejriwal). Congratulations. Now take Delhi to the heights it belongs to. Make it a world class city," she tweeted.
The AAP’s victory is significant as it will lead to the formation of the first majority government in Delhi by a party other than the BJP and the Congress. It is also the first time a party has won so many seats in the assembly.
Ajay Maken, who was the Congress’ campaign committee chief, resigned from his party position after the rout – the latest in a string of electoral drubbings for the grand old party following its resounding defeat in last year’s general election. “I have decided to tender my resignation from the post of AICC general secretary,” he said.
Reports suggested the AAP made gains in more than 35 seats when compared to the 2013 polls. The BJP, on the other hand, trailed in more than 35 seats it had won in the last elections.
Vote shares collated by the Election Commission showed the BJP fell by the wayside despite getting roughly the same number of votes as in the 2013 assembly polls. At the same time, the AAP’s gain was clearly at the expense of the Congress.
Counting of votes began at 8am and the AAP raced to a clear lead within an hour.
After the Capital voted in assembly elections for the second time in 14 months, exit polls had predicted on Saturday the AAP was set to return to power, an outcome likely to have national ramifications.
The closely fought election saw a record turnout of 67.10% and 8.9 million of the city's 13.3 million-strong electorate cast their votes.
The 2013 elections had produced a hung assembly, and the AAP (with 28 MLAs) formed a government with the outside support of eight Congress legislators.
The AAP rode to victory on promises of cheaper electricity and water, and probity in government. The party also has a strident position against Delhi’s famed culture of privilege; in its last stint, one of its more popular moves was the outlawing of red beacons on official cars.
Its culture of handouts runs counter to the ruling principles of the BJP at the Centre, which espouses a market-friendly approach and wants to cut subsidies. Stock markets, which had fallen sharply on Monday after investors took fright from the exit polls, recovered in early trade as people chose to look ahead to this month’s union Budget.
The BJP’s decision to project Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate, after her surprise induction days ahead of the polls, too proved counter-productive as it triggered dissent within the party.
Kejriwal, who saw just four of his 400-odd party candidates registering a win in the Lok Sabha elections, campaigned hard and reiterated he would not commit the same mistakes again if he was given a second chance by voters.
The defeat for the BJP in the national capital will harm Modi’s chances of consolidating power in Parliament, where his reform agenda is being thwarted.
Modi needs to win most of the state elections over the next four years to gain control of both Houses of Parliament to deliver on his promise of jobs and economic growth.
The BJP has, however, said the results in Delhi were not a referendum on Modi. "It's not a referendum on the BJP government. It will be a collective responsibility of the party…and winning will just be the first step for AAP. They had made many promises. AAP kaam karke dikhaye ab (AAP, now show us what you can do)," said BJP leader Shazia Ilmi.