In Delhi battle, national echoes - Hindustan Times
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In Delhi battle, national echoes

ByHT Editorial
May 24, 2024 11:31 PM IST

The campaign in the national Capital has been high on drama, and reflected the themes that have resonated across India in this election

Elections in the national capital territory (NCT) of Delhi are a prestigious battle even though it sends only seven MPs to the Lok Sabha. This is understandable since, as a seat of power, it attracts national attention. The electorate here is a slice of India, with many having migrated to the city in search of employment or education, and the outcomes tend to reflect the national trend: The winning party at the Centre is known to bag maximum seats in NCT.

People carry Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) at a distribution centre ahead of the sixth phase of India's general election in New Delhi, India, May 24, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis(REUTERS) PREMIUM
People carry Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) at a distribution centre ahead of the sixth phase of India's general election in New Delhi, India, May 24, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis(REUTERS)

What has distinguished the contest in Delhi this time is the theatre injected into the campaign ahead of nominations and thereafter. The preparations in Delhi for the polls started in the backdrop of the arrest of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in the 2020-21 excise policy case. In response, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) set the tone with its “jail ka jawab vote se (respond to jail with your vote)” campaign. The Opposition INDIA bloc rallied for Kejriwal at the Ram Lila Maidan in April, which also saw his wife, Sunita, making a political pitch. Later, the Supreme Court’s decision to allow bail to Kejriwal to campaign spiced up the electoral arena.

A complaint by AAP MP Swati Maliwal that she was assaulted by the CM’s aide at Kejriwal’s residence, complicated the campaign in its final hours, but, by and large, the narrative has revolved around the BJP’s chorus for Brand Modi and the Opposition’s pitch that shifted between hyper-local issues and allegations that democracy and federalism were in danger. Top leaders added heft to the campaign that battled both heat and voter disinterest. The demographic transitions and polarisation in the electorate also influenced the choice of candidates. The growing Purvanchali vote, for instance, has over the years prompted parties to field candidates whose origins are in that region.

Politically, the battle in Delhi is interesting for multiple reasons. The contest has turned bipolar for the first time since the 2009 general elections. The AAP and Congress, bitter rivals in the past, have a common goal of defeating the BJP. Delhi was swept by the BJP in the last two general elections. Now, can a bipolar contest tilt the scales?

The 2019 vote percentages offer a sobering picture for the INDIA bloc: The BJP, which comfortably crossed the halfway mark in terms of vote share, had a mammoth 16 percentage point lead over the combined vote shares of the AAP and Congress. Should that comfort the BJP, which changed six of its seven sitting MPs over fear of anti-incumbency?

The Delhi electorate is known to back horses for courses as the results of the past few Parliament, assembly and local body polls show — the BJP/Modi at the Centre and the AAP for state and local government. The preferences are so clear cut that the electorate which gave a thumping majority to the AAP in the 2015 assembly polls (67 out of 70 seats) elected only BJP MPs and gave the party 56.6% of the total votes polled in 2019. A year later, the AAP near-swept the assembly elections with 62 seats. With no wave in sight, the question now is if it will be a 7-0 scoreline for the winner, or a split verdict, as was common in the 1990s.

The voter’s primary duty, however, is to make sure that she casts her vote. Turnout in Delhi has seen swings — 51.86% in 2009 to 65.10% in 2014 to 60% in 2019. Voter apathy undermines democracy. Delhi’s voters, hopefully, will not let that happen but brave the heat and queue up to shape the destiny of the nation. Nothing less is expected of India’s Capital.

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