The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) serious bid to wrest power in the Delhi assembly elections in December has put a huge question mark over the final outcome. The Congress and the BJP, the two traditional contenders, seem to have gone on the back foot and are busy trying to devise ways and means to meet the unexpected challenge.
The situation continues to remain fluid since both the national parties have not announced their candidates and the picture would become clearer once it is known as to who is contesting against whom in the 70 assembly segments.
Delhi has witnessed a triangular fight twice in the past. Once, the Congress benefited from it and the next time the BJP got the better of its adversaries. This time, it is too early to say which way the contest would go since AAP is cutting into both the Congress and the BJP votes and, if its leader Arvind Kejriwal is to be believed, his party is way ahead of its rivals.
In the previous triangular fights, the Congress led by HKL Bhagat, Delhi’s strongman, humbled the BJP in the Delhi Metropolitan Council (the elected body before the Assembly was constituted) elections in 1983 largely because the Janata Party nominees split the anti-Congress vote.
The Congress had earlier lost both the Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh assembly polls and the BJP slogan was “Andhra- Karnataka haari hai, ab Dilli ki bari hai’’ but the party managed to come to power due to good strategic planning.
In 1993, the BJP campaign spearheaded by Madan Lal Khurana, the party’s best-known face in the capital, trounced the Congress since the presence of Janata Dal nominees split the secular vote. The Janata Dal led by Ramvir Singh Bidhuri had a secret understanding with Khurana and the Congress had no answers to superior tactics.
In fact, Bidhuri, who recently joined the BJP, had played a major role in finishing the golden era of Bhagat and was responsible for Bhagat’s defeat in the 1991 Parliamentary poll in East Delhi, which the BJP won and then again in 1993 in the Assembly face-off.
The triangular fight this time is unique since it has brought in a third contender who is hurting the two other parties. Another way of looking at it is the Congress vote share is diminishing as the opinion polls show but the anti-Congress vote has been split between the BJP and the AAP.
Ordinarily speaking, the BJP would have wrested power from the Congress that has already done three terms under Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. But despite a strong anti-Congress sentiment in the capital, the Saffron Brigade, largely because of its infighting, has not been able to pose a serious challenge as yet.
Kejriwal, accused of helping the Congress by design or inadvertently, has occupied the opposition space and is busy setting the agenda. In order to dispel the impression that he had anything to do with the Congress, he has pitted himself against Dikshit from the New Delhi (Gole Market) constituency.
The Congress is accusing the AAP leader and his party of playing the BJP game, a charge that is being rebutted repeatedly. Congress supporters, however, feel that they will benefit ultimately from the split in opposition votes.
The salient feature of the triangular contest this time is that as of now it is appearing to be a fight between AAP and the others. In 1983, it was Congress versus the others and in 1993, it was the BJP versus the others.
The question is if Kejriwal and his team will be able to sustain their campaign or will fall by the wayside once the two big parties start flexing their muscles when the campaign is at its peak. Time alone will tell.