Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party surged to a landslide win in Delhi that surpassed the wildest of expectations and left a routed Bharatiya Janata Party licking its wounds in the city-state from which it rules the country.
Kejriwal, a 46-year-old former tax official who turned social activist and founded AAP just over two years ago, will become chief minister for the second time on February 14, the first anniversary of his controversial resignation after just 49 days in the job.
AAP won a record 67 seats out of 70, far higher that even the most generous exit poll, and a full 39 seats more than it won as a fledgling unit in 2013. The BJP-led alliance, which ran a disjointed campaign marked by internal dissent, saw its share vapourise to just 3 seats, down 29.
"The people of Delhi want an honest government, the people want to get rid of hollow speeches or statements like women should give birth to four children or ghar wapsi. Instead they want a government that has an action plan for Delhi," said AAP leader Manish Sisodia as party workers celebrated wildly.
Kejriwal thanked the city for the unprecedented win, but termed the mandate “very scary” and asked party leaders not to be arrogant. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had participated in a bitter election campaign against AAP, tweeted that he had congratulated Kejriwal and assured him of "complete support in the development of Delhi".
AAP rode to the second-biggest election victory in India’s history 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, rebounded as people chose to look ahead to this month’s union Budget.
For the BJP, this was its first significant defeat after sweeping last year’s general election. Though statistically tiny in the overall scheme of things, the capital is home to India’s two biggest national parties and many of its top politicians, giving it a disproportionately high profile.
The saffron party was quick to distance the result from the performance of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. It is also expected to try and ringfence blame around its chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi, a high profile former cop parachuted into the role by party president and ace strategist Amit Shah, for whom the result is a rare embarrassment.
"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. Senior leaders stayed away from the party’s Pandit Pant Marg office after seeing the initial trends.
Kejriwal swept to an easy win in the New Delhi constituency, while Bedi and Ajay Maken, the Congress’ chief ministerial hopeful, bit the dust in seats thought to be relatively secure for their respective parties. Congress, which ruled the state for 15 years ending 2013, scored an embarrassing duck, and its offices wore a deserted look.
Bedi stayed true to her reputation for gaffes, telling a news conference that she hadn’t lost the elections because she had given her best. "As far as the party is concerned, it is for them to introspect on the reasons for the loss," she added.
Kejriwal’s first essay as chief minister, with Congress support, was marked by chaos and a vigilante approach by some of his ministers. The CM himself famously went on a dharna against the police near Rail Bhavan that briefly threatened to disrupt the Republic Day parade. He flamed out in 49 days, a resignation he later conceded was a mistake.
(With inputs from Neha Pushkarna and Atul Mathur)