“Jo desh ka mood hai, wahi Delhi ka mood hai (the country’s mood will get resonated in Delhi),” thundered Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Ramlila Maidan in January 2015, launching BJP’s campaign for Delhi assembly elections.
Modi was referring to the BJP’s electoral juggernaut that was on a roll, winning three assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand in six months, after registering a landslide in May 2014 general elections.
Delhi, however, showed a different ‘mood’ when the results were declared on February 8, 2015. The fledgling Aam Aadmi Party won 67 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly, relegating the BJP to three seats even as the Congress, which ruled the city for 15 years, drew a naught.
The verdict initiated a new political discourse in the country.
Cut to 2017, and the city residents are headed to exercise their franchise again. Will the history repeat itself when the city electorate vote on April 22 to choose their municipal councillors, or has Delhi’s romance with ‘alternative politics’ is over?
While this will be the second civic polls in the city after the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was trifurcated---into South, North and East MCD---in 2012, it will be the first full-fledged municipal poll outing for the ruling AAP.
The BJP, which rules the three municipal corporations, is facing a decade-old anti-incumbency, while the Congress, which has been in the opposition in civic bodies since 2007, is approaching the polls as an opportunity to make a comeback in the city polity after being washed out in the last assembly elections.
The municipal elections comes soon after the assembly polls in five states, with the BJP emerging the big winner, forming government in four, while the Congress won in neighbouring Punjab.
The results were a setback to AAP, which had groundswell of support in the northern state, as it failed in its first attempt towards national expansion though it emerged the principal opposition in Punjab assembly.
Will the recently-concluded assembly election results impact the civic body polls? Sanjay Kumar of CSDS says ‘not much’ as the assembly and municipal elections are different, and electoral results in one state is unlikely to impact the outcome in another.
“The kind of victory that the Aam Aadmi Party registered in the 2015 assembly elections was a peak that any party could reach. It’s a high point for any party. If at all, the numbers would only go down. The question remains, how much will the BJP and Congress gain from it?” Kumar said.
Political scientist Ajay Gudavarthy agreed. Every election has a different set of issues and hence it is unlikely that one would impact another, he said.
Gudavarthy said the MCD elections would be a “statement” on Kejriwal government’s performance, besides a “test of the national mood” that seems to be going in favour of the BJP in other states.
“AAP tried to pitch its work in Punjab as well. But there several other reasons were at play. So, MCD election will be the real test of their performance,” Gudavarthy said.
Voting trends in Delhi show that the same group could vote differently in different elections. The Congress, led by Sheila Dikshit, won the 2003 and 2008 assembly elections comfortably, but the same electorate voted BJP to power in the municipal corporations in 2007 and 2012.
The delimitation of municipal wards in January this year has also added to the unpredictability of the behaviour of electorate. Though the total number of wards remain 272, the geographic change in the boundaries of wards has altered the demographic nature of these seats too.
Depending on the population size, the number of municipal seats in each assembly segment has also changed from the existing four wards in each assembly constituency. The reshuffling of seats reserved for women and Scheduled Castes has led to several veteran councillors being left out of the fray, or forced to scout for a new seat.
In an attempt to beat the decade-long anti-incumbency, the BJP has decided not to repeat any sitting councillor. While the jury is still out on the electoral dividend the BJP would accrue from the step, Sanjay Kumar says it is unlikely to “affect the party adversely, even if it does not bring sizeable gains”.
“It has been observed that faces gain importance in local body polls, unlike the Parliament and assembly elections, where the larger narrative set by parties play a decisive role,” Kumar added.
The Aam Aadmi Party is banking on its performance over the past two years, besides raising its anti-corruption pitch against the BJP-ruled civic bodies.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led party blames the BJP and Congress, who have been in power alternatively since 1997, for having converted the corporations into a “hub of corruption”.
The BJP, on the other hand, blame the Kejriwal government of deliberately not providing enough funds as mandated under the statutes. The Congress has been accusing both the BJP and AAP of doing politics at the cost of functioning of the civic bodies.
Smaller parties like JDU and Swaraj India, formed by the ousted AAP leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, will add to the competition.
The blame game among the political parties is set to get shriller as the campaign peaks.
With all major political parties claiming victory, is the civic body polls headed for a close contest? The results of bypolls held in 13 municipal seats last year is a case in point. It threw up a ‘hung house’ -- five seats each for AAP and Congress and three for the BJP.