Delhi polls will show whether the local or the national prevails
The Election Commission (EC) has begun preparations for the Delhi polls, which is expected to be held sometime in February. Parties have kicked off their campaigns, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally at Ramlila Maidan last week. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, too, has begun a series of town halls to engage with voters.
In terms of numbers, the political outcome of Delhi may appear insignificant. It sends only seven members to the Lok Sabha; its assembly has only 70 members; and the elected government has limited powers. But the political symbolism of Delhi is deep. As a predominantly urban centre, with a substantial middle class, it gives a sense of the mood of a significant demographic of one of India’s most modern centres. And it is a microcosm of all the fault lines of Indian politics, where identity — class, identity, religion, caste — and vikas (development) — infrastructure, health, education — intersect.
Mr Kejriwal, who refashioned his political strategy after the party’s rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will focus on his local governance record, especially the improvement in government schools and public health system. AAP will also focus on local leadership — with the question “Kejriwal versus who” being asked, much like the question “Modi versus who” was asked in the LS polls. AAP hopes to sustain both its vote base among the poor, but also win back a section of the middle class which backed the BJP in the national polls. The BJP, for its part, will focus on national issues, including the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, with the hope that it will polarise the electorate, leading to a degree of Hindu consolidation. Home Minister Amit Shah’s allusion to the “tukde tukde gang” being behind the protests is a sign of this strategy. To tackle the local, the party will also relentlessly publicise its decision to regularise unauthorised colonies. And to offset the absence of a strong local face, it will seek to posit the battle as one between Mr Modi and Mr Kejriwal. The only thing which can be said with relatively certainty is that the Congress will come third — though the scale of its performance will determine whether anti-BJP votes split or consolidate behind AAP. In this broadly triangular, but essentially bipolar battle, whether the national or local prevails, will once again give a flavour of the mood of the electorate.