Bawana bypoll: Development focus, course correction did the trick for AAP
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Monday won the Bawana assembly bypoll on its home turf, halting the trend of electoral losses that followed its big victory in the 2015 Delhi assembly elections.
The party emerged victorious with a sizeable lead in a three-corner contest that witnessed a low turnout of 45 per cent on August 23. This was a reflection of AAP’s success in holding on to its core vote bank of JJ cluster residents.
The JJ (jhuggi jhopri) cluster is one of seven types of unplanned settlements designated by the Delhi government.
The bypoll result also reversed the political history of the assembly seat. AAP’s Ram Chander has become the first Bawana MLA who hails from a JJ cluster and not one of the 26 rural villages that have dictated the constituency’s political fortunes in the past.
All the six MLAs who have represented the constituency since 1993, when the Delhi assembly was reconstituted, belonged to one of these villages. Even in this bypoll, the Congress and BJP had opted to play safe by picking their candidates from there.
Bawana, one of the largest constituencies in Delhi, is home to some of its most expansive JJ clusters — including Shahbad Dairy and Bawana JJ Colony. Chander hails from Shahbad Dairy.
“The fact that the AAP candidate hailed from a JJ cluster worked in his favour. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also did door-to-door campaigning in the area, making many promises that seem to have worked for the AAP,” said Congress candidate Surender Kumar, a three-time former legislator from the constituency. Kumar conceded defeat after 20 of the 28 rounds of counting were completed.
According to AAP sources, the political course correction undertaken by the party after back-to-back electoral losses tilted the balance in its favour. The development pitch raised by the Kejriwal-led party in the run-up to the poll campaign also seemed to have impressed the electorate.
“Being in power, the AAP’s poll pitch that its MLA can ensure better development in the area than a Congress or BJP councillor may have helped Ram Chander,” said a Delhi Congress leader.
The bypoll in Bawana was necessitated after former AAP MLA Ved Prakash resigned from the party and the Delhi assembly to join the BJP in March, ahead of the municipal corporation elections. He had alleged that the Kejriwal government was “not allowing” him to “work” in the area.
However, Prakash — who contested the bypoll on a BJP ticket — was defeated by Chander with a margin of 24,052 votes.
AAP’s triumph is also being attributed by party insiders to the fact that the party leadership went back to the drawing board after the setback in the MCD elections. It re-established its connect with the people and energised party cadre — two aspects that were reportedly found lacking in the party’s previous electoral efforts.
“The party launched its poll preparations soon after the MCD elections. Introspection at various levels helped the party identify the areas where course correction was required,” said a party leader.
Soon after the MCD election results were declared, the reins of the party’s state unit were handed over to Delhi labour minister Gopal Rai. After naming the candidate early, Rai and his team stationed themselves in Bawana for over two-and-a-half months.
The ‘presence’ of the Delhi government in Bawana also increased in the last few months, with even Kejriwal taking time out from his busy schedule to make several rounds of the constituency. The chief minister participated in a series of padyatras and public meetings in the run-up to the election, during which he promised speedy completion of all pending development work.
Going rural for victory
AAP also made inroads into rural villages that have traditionally backed the BJP and Congress to expand its political presence in Bawana. In a symbolic message to the Delhi dehat (rural belt), Kejriwal inducted Najafgarh legislator Kailash Gahlot into his government — giving him important portfolios such as transport and revenue.
After former chief ministers Chaudhary Brahma Prakash and Shahib Singh Verma, Gahlot was the third legislator from the rural belt to be made a member of the Delhi cabinet.
Placing special emphasis on the development of non-urban zones, the Kejriwal government had announced the smart village project in March — under which an annual fund of Rs 2 crore was pledged to each rural village. Party leaders made it a point to repeatedly remind rural voters of this initiative during the election campaign.