‘2 crore voters sent a shock to Amit Shah, BJP’: AAP leader after Delhi win
Okhla includes Shaheen Bagh, the venue of a sit-in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, that started almost two months ago, and opposition to which became the central thrust of a high-decibel campaign by the BJP led by Union ministers and local MPs.Updated: Feb 12, 2020 09:45 IST
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Amanatullah Khan’s near-record victory margin in Okhla emerged as a telling story of Verdict 2020 from the constituency of Shaheen Bagh — the ubiquitous metaphor of street revolution and “anti-national” political dissent alike — which had become the opposition BJP’s pivotal electoral issue.
To be sure, the AAP won Okhla in 2015 as well by a margin of 64,000 votes, a figure it improved to over 70,000 this time as Khan beat his nearest rival, Brahm Singh of the BJP, after once leading by what seemed like a record 91,000.
Okhla includes Shaheen Bagh, the venue of a sit-in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, that started almost two months ago, and opposition to which became the central thrust of a high-decibel campaign by the BJP led by Union ministers and local MPs.
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Khan polled 66.03% votes, improving his previous performance of 51.06%. Just one candidate, in Matia Mahal, polled a higher vote percentage than Khan’s.
Shaheen Bagh has become the epicentre of the protests against the CAA ; several women have been on the sit-in protest in the area for nearly two months, often joined by people from all across the city as they have blocked an arterial road connecting Delhi and Noida via Kalindi Kunj. Less than 2km away from Shaheen Bagh, Jamia Millia Islamia students, with the support of Jamia Nagar residents, have been holding similar protests against the CAA on the road outside the varsity.
In the weeks leading to voting day, BJP candidate Brahm Singh said in his rallies the protesters had inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of commuters from Okhla constituency, apart from people in several other parts of the city because of the traffic spillover caused by the road blockade.
This theme resonated across the BJP’s campaign — which oscillated between some leaders calling the Shaheen Bagh stir “anarchic”, and some others, like West Delhi MP Parvesh Verma saying the protesters would enter people’s homes and “rape and kill” their daughters and sisters. Verma’s comments drew action by the election commission.
Union home minister Amit Shah urged voters to press the EVM buttons so hard that the Shaheen Bagh protesters would be jolted by its electric current. Alluding to the Muslim identity of many of the protesters, BJP candidate from Model Town Kapil Mishra said the February 8 election would be a match between “India and Pakistan” on Delhi’s streets.
BJP leaders continued to link the Congress and the AAP with the protests, blaming them for encouraging and even funding it, while chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who did not visit the protest site, blamed the BJP for letting the stir linger until the elections to take advantage of the issue by polarising voters.
Okhla, with around 330,915 voters, is one of six constituencies in Delhi with a Muslim population exceeding 40% of the electorate. The Muslim-dominated areas are concentrated around Jamia Nagar and include places such as Zakir Nagar, Shaheen Bagh, Batla House and Abul Fazal Enclave. There are many Hindu-dominated areas, too, such as Sarita Vihar, Jasola, Sukhdev Vihar and New Friends Colony.
On Tuesday morning, when the counting of votes began, BJP’s Singh was leading after getting 3,838 votes to Khan’s 2,399 by the second round. He also won the third round by a small margin of 194 votes to add to his lead.
But, as the counting progressed, Khan started to garner huge numbers — in round five, for example, he got 7,567 votes to just 24 for Singh and in round 10, 8,721 to Singh’s 25.
“Both Hindu and Muslim voters of Okhla have voted for me and proved that they chose development over hate politics. Two crore voters have sent a shock to Amit Shah and the BJP,” he said, referring to the Union home minister’s comment.
On Tuesday evening, after the results were announced and Khan learnt he had won with a high margin, his supporters danced in front of the counting centre. At another corner of the city, the AAP celebrated its victory; party chief Arvind Kejriwal took a victory lap while thanking Delhi residents.
But in Shaheen Bagh the protesters were silent — many had taped their mouths. The women said this was a protest against Monday’s police action on a group of students from Jamia Nagar who were beaten up while carrying out a peaceful march. The protesters refused to do media interviews. They said they did not support any political party.
Praveen Rai, a political analyst with the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies, said among the key factors behind the verdict was the BJP campaign leading to “reverse polarisation” amid anxieties among Muslims triggered by the new citizenship law.
“The BJP’s poll campaign on Hindu-Muslim issues has been counterproductive. It only led to reverse polarisation, consolidating voters in favour of the AAP with an intent to vote against the BJP. They were already anxious because of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. They were clear that any vote for the Congress could cause a split and end up benefiting the BJP. Secondly, most Muslim-dominated areas need good schools, hospitals, water connections, sewer connection, etc, and they see a solution to such civic issues in the AAP,” Rai said.