The battle for Delhi is three-cornered now
With the Congress releasing a list of six candidates from Delhi, including heavyweights like Sheila Dixit and Ajay Maken from Northeast and New Delhi respectively, the contours of the battle for the seven Lok Sabha seats in the capital became clear on Monday. The Congress decision comes after months of speculation, and weeks of prolonged negotiation with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). On Sunday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released the name of four of its own candidates, including minister, Harshvardhan, and party chief in the city, Manoj Tiwari, from Chandni Chowk and East Delhi respectively. The AAP’s candidates have already been campaigning in the city, and includes figures such as Dileep Pandey in Northeast Delhi and Atishi Marlena from East Delhi.
All of this means that Delhi will witness a triangular contest. The story of how what could have been a bipolar contest between the BJP and the AAP-Congress turned into a triangular one is instructive. The talks moved through several stages. While the AAP was keen, there was deep reluctance within a large section of the Delhi Congress to engage with the AAP; after all, the AAP had led the movement against the United Progressive Alliance government and then ousted Ms Dixit from power in the state. After much persuasion, the negotiations moved to the specifics of seat sharing. The AAP was at most willing to concede two of the seven seats, while the Congress wanted three. Then the negotiations expanded to Haryana, with the AAP claiming that if it were to give three seats in Delhi, there ought to be a larger deal across states. It argued that along with a new regional party in Haryana, led by Dushyant Chautala, the three forces would be able to easily defeat the BJP across 17 seats. The anyway reluctant Congress, by this stage, threw a fit, ruled out Haryana, and the talks collapsed.
This has come as music to the ears of the BJP, for the political arithmetic was for all to see. The consolidation of the anti-BJP votes behind one alliance would have meant that even if the BJP did as well as it did in 2014, with 46.4% of the vote, it would have struggled to win seats, let alone retain all seven seats. The fragmentation of the anti-BJP vote now gives a clear edge to the incumbent party. But beyond the arithmetic, the collapse of the possible alliance in Delhi sends out two messages. It reinforces the BJP’s narrative that opposition parties are weak and squabbling, dominated by narrow interests, with little in common. And while seven seats may not be a lot, the battle in Delhi has always been symbolic and watched widely across the country. While calling it a bellwether state may be somewhat of an exaggeration, the party which wins Delhi has usually done well nationally. In 2004, the Congress won six of the seven seats; in 2009, it won seven of the seven seats. Both times, it went on to form the government. In 2014, when it swept nationally, the BJP won all seven seats in the city too. As citizens prepare to choose between the three forces, the opposition parties have much to learn from the story of Delhi.