Delhi State Assembly Elections, 2013: The Whole Story
Delhi State Assembly Elections, 2013: The Whole Story
The average citizen of Delhi experiences a quality of life that is relatively better than most of the nation. A large portion of people living in Delhi have families in the neighbouring states and are therefore aware that the state of civic amenities available to them are definitely superior to what their relatives have access to. The citizens of this city see work going on all around them, cranes all over the city, the government is working. The Metro and bus services make their lives easier. Large scale urbanization gives them a sense of growth and progress. The citizen of Delhi feels at comfort with the way things are and has therefore kept the Sheila Dikshit led government in power.
In the course of her three consecutive terms, Sheila Dikshit has been masterful at winning over vote banks with governmental initiatives targeted at the largest segment of the voter population in Delhi, the poor living in slums and unauthorised colonies. Hoards of unauthorised colonies are regularized before every Assembly Elections, slums and unauthorized colonies have been electrified for the most part and given access to roads and water. For someone in the lower economic bracket, these actions go a long way to garner their gratitude and loyalty. As a nation, India has gotten accustomed to having highly limited expectations from governments. For most people, corruption is a voting non issue as they implicitly feel that as long as the work is getting done, there is no real harm from a little skimming off the top and that it’s bound to happen. It is in this context, that the populace is easily overwhelmed by gestures as those discussed above.
The common sentiment in Delhi is that at least some progress is happening, if the government were to change, the opposition party having been out of power for 15 years might throw a monkey wrench in the workings of whatever good is happening in their hunger to make up for the lost years of earning opportunity. It is this cocktail of wariness of the unknown and contentment with the known incrementally positive situation that has overcome the anti incumbency sentiment in Delhi over the years. In addition to this, Sheila continues to be a charming motherly figure for the city and is perceived to be a good Chief Minister. Her personal charisma and stature have helped her party tide over several potholes like the CWG scam. She has managed to deflect the blames for most of what is wrong to organizations beyond her control and take credit for all the good work done in the city. The law and order situation is the Delhi Police’s responsibility which comes under the central government, the infrastructure issues are the DDA’s fault, the civic amenities fail when they do because of the BJP ruled MCD and so on; while the services like the Metro as seen as her achievement while it was initiated by the BJP government before her. Rampant corruption and BJP’s poor performance in the MCD has only gone to work in her favour further.
However the last year has witnessed a change in tide. What started with Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption gave an outlet to the frustration of the masses. It soon became clear that Arvind Kejriwal was the architect of this road show and that Anna Hazare, a face that suited the purpose. Arvind Kejriwal managed to put corruption as a political issue on the table, something that had been broadly skirted by all political parties in mutual interest. One the issue of corruption became the focal point of mass aggression, all political parties jumped onboard the anti corruption bandwagon to capitalize on the popular sentiment. Just when the corruption induced furore was dying down, the gruesome gang rape of a young woman in Delhi stoked the fire once again and the people burst out onto the streets. The epicentre of both these events was Delhi and police action on both occasions received wide spread flak. Sheila Dikshit came into the cross hairs of the public discontentment on both occasions. Her attempts to deflect blame didn’t bode well with the masses this time around. In the mean while Arvind Kejriwal jumped into the political fray with his newly founded Aam Aadmi Party. While this initially induced a sceptical response from both the masses and commentators, it began to pick up pace over the months.
As the year 2013 progressed, rising power tariffs and fuel costs became a burning issue in the public domain with both AAP and BJP beating their chests and cashing in on the pinch felt by the masses. The government aggressively defended itself from these allegations by running campaigns informing the people about the power tariffs in Delhi and how they are the cheapest compared to other major cities. However, this was mostly eyewash as the government’s statistics were arrived at after comparing the prices in only one specific bracket in which they could obtain favourable results and then too it indicated the government subsidised rates in Delhi in comparison with the unsubsidized rates in other cities. This comparison within the bracket too is flawed as the subsidy ultimately comes from the tax payer’s money. Ultimately, irrespective of the nuances of the issue and arguments made by political parties, the fact of the matter is that the average electricity consumer in Delhi is received huge electricity bills and that at the end of the day supersedes any logic he or she might be fed.
To make matters worse, the meteoric rise of prices of food items and the landslide of the Indian Economy have coincided with the run up to the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections. Although Sheila Dikshit is not directly responsible for this directly, it’s bound to impact her in the polls. Congress might be able to salvage the situation to some extent by the time the Lok Sabha elections come around but it’s unlikely that the situation will change enough before the Vidhan Sabha elections. There is a major effort underway to capitalize on the Food Security Bill at the state level with the grand role out and extensive propaganda to make it count with the voters. This might be successful in offsetting some of the damages. The average voter is unlikely to grasp the macro economic ramifications of the Food Security Bill and see this move in a positive light.
BJP’s inability to deliver a leader of stature within Delhi had left Sheila Dikshit virtually unchallenged in the public perception race for the next CM of Delhi until Arvind Kejriwal showed up. According to recent poles, Kejriwal is the only political figure giving any fight to Sheila. BJP leader Vijay Goel is a distant third and others barely count. However, Kejriwal’s personal appeal is unlikely to translate into votes for the party. Predictions are being made that AAP will win between 2 and 9 out of the 70 Vidhan Sabha seats. This would be a decent feat given that his party has been around only for about 8 months and seeks to fight the elections without the economic muscle of the other established parties; but is unlikely to get any more seats unlike what they have been claiming. The only way the AAP can come to power in Delhi is if they chose to enter a post poll alliance with either Congress or BJP, something which they have virtually ruled out. Allying with either party after the kind of allegations they have made against both would severely damage the image that they have been building of being a no monkey business party.
The congress is losing ground fast in Delhi and nobody seems to be benefitting from this significantly at this moment. While AAP is riding on Kejriwal’s mojo, the voter is unlikely to trust the party with governance yet. Additionally, AAP for the most part has been running a strong negative campaign against eh Sheila government. While a negative campaign has the effect damaging the party it’s aimed at, it is ineffective in converting the sentiment into a positive vote for the party running the campaign unless it is coupled with a strong positive campaign. In the absence of a substantial positive message the voter is left thinking about the problems with the present government but lacks a clear idea of the alternative. The way to overturn a regime is to plant a potent dream of a better future in the heads of the masses. The dream needs to be clear, believable and the agency making the promises needs to be perceived as credible and capable of delivering on the dream. When this is coupled with agitation on the pitfalls of the present system, the people transition out of their state of comfort and start feeling the pinch of what they are missing out on.
The anti incumbency vote that is moving away from Sheila Dikshit would have naturally come to BJP, if not for the AAP. However, the BJP could have mitigated this circumstance by turning AAP’s negative campaign into an added arsenal against the present government. Had the BJP run a compelling positive campaign and projected a coherent alternative to the present government, they would have succeeded into turning the votes that AAP was breaking away from the Congress with their negative campaign into their own pockets. But what we have instead is a BJP wrecked with major infighting and therefore a scattershot campaign.
The BJP in Delhi has two major factions, the first is the Punjabi power circuit and the second is that of the traders’ community or ‘Baniyas’. Now while the Punjabi clique has been ahead of the game at the state level since the era of Madan Lal Khurana, VK Malhotra’s inability to defeat Sheila Dikshit in the previous assembly elections facilitated the rise of Vijay Geol to the President’s position at the state level. Upon becoming the President, Vijay Goel is said to have appointed people close to him at major party positions within the state and this ruffled quite a few feathers. To make matters worse, he launched a campaign which pitched him as the face of BJP Delhi. Posters put up across the city by his supporters portrayed him predominantly while side stepping the leaders from the other faction. While the opposing faction would have moved against him sooner or later, with an eye on the Chief Ministerial seat should the party win, his actions gave them fodder for their cause. The party brought in Nitin Gadkari and eventually Navjot Singh Sidhu to take control of the situation and guide the party’s efforts in the run up to the elections. However, Gadkari has been primarily consumed by fire fighting since the squabble between the factions has begun.
The Bijli Andolan rally against the inflated power tariffs at Ramleela Maidan held on the 11th of August, was quite successful and Viijay Goel took the center stage at the event, revealing his 10 point program for reducing the cost of electricity in Delhi, if BJP was to come to power. The event witnessed all the major leaders of BJP Delhi on the same stage, a rare show of unity. However, the very next day all hell broke loose and Vijay Goel’s detractors came out in open mutiny, demanding the central leadership to make it clear that Vijay Goel wasn’t BJP’s CM candidate and thereby lobbied for Harshvardhan as their nominee. The success of the rally had made it clear to them that as a result of the way he was projecting himself, Vijay Goel was on his way to becoming the undisputed claimant for the throne should BJP come to power in the state. The strategy was simple, with a little over 2 months to go for the elections; the timing was perfect to stage a mutiny. Any later and it would lead to certain defeat at the polls. Even at this stage, infighting would hurt BJP’s chances severely, but should they come up tops after this stunt, there would still be just enough time to try and salvage the party’s chances. They were willing to risk losing the elections rather than see Vijay Goel as the Chief Minister. After two weeks of negotiations, the central leadership finally announced the creation of a 17 member election committee and a 53 member core team to manage the elections. Despite wide speculation that Harshvardhan would be anointed the head of the campaign committee to clip Vijay Goel’s wings, the latter was declared the head of both panels. In the week following up to this settlement; Sudhanshu Mittal, Vijay Goel’s strongest backer and BJP Delhi’s election cell convenor resigned from his post. What initially seemed to be an intriguing move when it was made began to look like a part of the compromise when the final outcome was clear. It is thus that Delhi BJP’s election campaign that was primarily being run out of Vijay Goel’s office came under the ambit of a bloated committee with conflicting interests. The best way to ensure that something never gets done is to subject it to a committee. Furthermore, the rumours that a completely neutral face such as Smriti Irani or Ravi Shankar Prasad might be introduced by the party as the CM candidate were put to rest as the party declared that it will not have any CM candidate prior to the elections. While this might be something they might have considered, it was ultimately decided against and this was probably the achievement of the Vijay Goel camp that would like to keep the possibility for him getting the seat alive.
All things considered, Sheila Dikshit seems to have the edge on an election that was cut out for BJP to take. The way things stand as of now, it seems unlikely that either party will be able to make the halfway mark by themselves. Arvind Kejriwal might end up deciding who forms the next government and should that situation arise, he will be hard pressed to make a choice as a re-election as a result of his unwillingness will hurt him severely when the re-election does happen. It is still possible though that the deteriorating economic condition and the impending fuel price hike as a result of the crashing currency along with sustained high prices of vegetables might get ahead of Sheila Dikshit. It is less likely but not yet impossible that BJP might get its house in order at the state level and go after the elections with a consolidated effort. Narendra Modi is said to be distancing himself from the Delhi elections as a result of not wanting to be associated with a losing proposition. However, Modi’s appeal is growing by leaps and bounds and he has gotten a hugely positive response on his past appearances in Delhi. Should the BJP achieve the twin objective of sorting things out internally and getting Modi to address Delhi and urge them to win BJP the state elections as a step towards bringing BJP and implicitly him to power in 2014, it will go a long way to bring home the voters. This is a tall order to achieve given the time frame.