It is a high-pitched electrifying three cornered electoral battle that the national capital has never witnessed before.
Allegations have flown thick and fast to malign opponents, the tallest leaders of the three main contenders – Aam Aadmi Party, BJP and Congress – have descended on Delhi’s foggy street corners, and parties have left no stone unturned to woo votes in a campaign of little more than 15 days, one of the shortest in the recent past.
While opinion polls have overwhelmingly favoured the AAP led by Arvind Kejriwal, the BJP has pulled out all stops to remain in the race to form the next government in Delhi, a move it feels will reiterate Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s popularity.
The Congress appeared to be out of contention though its campaign chief Ajay Maken tried his best to occupy some media space during the campaign, which, like the 2014 general election, was the subject of 24x7 coverage by TV news channels in the past week.
Kejriwal began with the distinct advantage of being an early starter by hitting the roads more than three months ago. On the other hand, the AAP’s arch-rival BJP was riding high on the success of the “Modi wave” in assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, and believed that the prime minister would clinch Delhi for the party.
But Delhi has been a different ball game from the states where the BJP did well. Unlike the states where the party was in the opposition, there was no anti-incumbency in favour of the BJP in Delhi, where it is in power in the three municipal corporations, and its nominee, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, has been in-charge of the Delhi government since Modi took over as prime minister.
Identifying its main rival as Kejriwal, the BJP targeted him for resigning after just 49 days as Delhi’s chief minister in February 2014, and called him an “anarchist” and a "Naxalite". Realising that his resignation was a weak spot, Kejriwal was quick to apologise and assure the people that he would not commit the same mistake again.
More than that, the former Indian Revenue Service officer propagated his developmental agenda for each section of society, which found traction among Delhiites.
The BJP banked on Modi’s pet projects like Swachh Bharat, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and Digital India to project that the theme Delhi too would benefit if India gains. As the party’s campaign failed to gain momentum, the BJP played a master card by announcing former Indian Police Service officer Kiran Bedi, a colleague of Kejriwal in his anti-corruption crusade with Anna Hazare, as its chief ministerial candidate just a fortnight ahead of the vote on February 7.
Bedi’s nomination did not work according to the expectations of the BJP’s top leadership, with resentment surfacing among senior leaders.
Jagdish Mukhi – once a claimant for being the BJP’s chief ministerial face – said party leaders were not consulted on the issue. Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhayay embarrassed the party by announcing he would not contest, leading to an uproar among his supporters.
The lukewarm response to some of Bedi’s rallies pushed the BIP to seek reinforcements, with its star campaigner Modi chipping in with four rallies. The party also deployed 120 MPs, more than a dozen cabinet ministers and chief ministers of eight states to campaign in the capital.
It got some last-minute ammunition from the Aam Aadmi Voluntary Action Manch (AAVAM), a breakaway group of AAP, which accused Kejriwal of receiving Rs 2 crore for his campaign from four bogus companies.
Amid this brouhaha, the Congress pitched its development agenda and its vice-president Rahul Gandhi did several road shows and rallies in unauthorised colonies and slum clusters, considered the vote base of the party. But the move appeared to be aimed more at preventing Congress votes shifting to the AAP than at some major electoral victory.
The grand old party of India should be more than happy if it gets a dozen seats in Delhi – four more than in the 2013 assembly polls.
In this electrifying election season, opinion polls have shown that Kejriwal has consolidated his position since December 2014, and an aggregate of these surveys have predicted a majority government for him. The polls gave BJP the second position with about 30 seats and the Congress was a poor third with four to six seats in the 70-member assembly. Though the fight in Delhi is being seen as one between Kejriwal and Modi, the fate of the 637 candidates in the fray – about 17 % of them having criminal cases pending against them - will be locked in about 1 lakh electronic voting machines on Saturday.
And the winners in this keenly contested electoral match will be announced on Tuesday, February 10. It will be interesting to see whether Kejriwal will form the new government on February 15, exactly a year after he had quit as Delhi’s chief minister after failing to push through the Jan Lokpal Bill, a proposed anti-corruption law.