The BJP retained power in Delhi’s three municipal corporations for a third consecutive term on Wednesday, in what is seen as an overwhelming rejection of the Aam Aadmi Party just two years after it won a brute majority in the Delhi assembly elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity as well as a decision to drop almost all its sitting councillors helped the BJP not only buck anti-incumbency but also strengthen its grip over the three civic bodies it first won 10 years ago.
The civic elections carried wider national ramifications as well. An emphatic victory for the BJP only adds to its image of invincibility and leaves a divided opposition further demoralised in the run up to key state elections next year and the national polls in 2019.
But the setback was the worst for AAP chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
With the verdict seen as a referendum on his two-year-old government, the civic elections were a matter of prestige for him. The defeat calls into question Kejriwal’s ability to win elections after his party’s crushing defeat in assembly polls in Goa and Punjab last month.
A split in the opposition votes also helped the BJP’s victory. The combined vote share of the AAP (26.21%) and Congress (21.09%) was more than that of the BJP’s (36.16%).
The AAP also failed to hold on to its core support bases, including among Purvanchalis and minorities.
“Modi charisma helped the BJP to beat anti-incumbency. The triangular contest proved crucial in the victory margin… In a triangular contest, any party that gets over 36% emerges victorious,” said Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
For the BJP the victory was sweet revenge for the party’s humiliating loss to the AAP in 2015 Delhi state polls when the latter won 67 of 70 seats.
The Congress ended up third in the civic polls but made a sizeable gain in its vote share compared to its performance in the 2015 assembly elections.
Later in the day, Kejriwal congratulated the BJP for the victory.
“My govt looks forward to working (with) MCDs for the betterment of Delhi,” Kejriwal tweeted.
The results followed a spate of resignations.
AAP (Delhi convener), Dilip Pandey, put in his papers. Ajay Maken offered to resign as Delhi Congress chief taking moral responsibility for the loss.
The AAP’s humiliating defeat plunged the party into a crisis even as its top leadership put up a brave front suggesting the verdict was the result of tampering with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
“EVM tampering is the bitter truth of the country’s democracy. One can crack jokes on us initially, but fearing being made fun of, we cannot refrain from speaking the truth,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told reporters.
However, the party seemed divided on the issue as water minister Kapil Mishra, in whose constituency the party managed to win two of five municipal wards, said, “It was a reality that people didn’t vote for AAP and all blame can’t be pinned on the EVMs”.
In an apparent dig at the AAP, Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said BJP’s impressive show in the MCD polls was a lesson for those crying foul over EVMs.