In the run-up to the Delhi assembly election,the Congress still seems ahead of the rest
The people of Delhi may be unhappy with the overall governance of the ruling Congress and they may be agitated by rising prices. But the irony is that,at the moment,the Congress seems to be ahead of other contenders. This is not a reflection of public appreciation of the Sheila Dikshit governments work over the last 15 years. Even though the Congress is the likely frontrunner in the assembly polls,its support base has depleted enormously. The party seems set to lose a sizeable number of votes from the last assembly election in 2008. But even with a reduced voteshare,the party is likely to lead,since anti-Congress votes will probably be divided among the BJP,the Aam Aadmi Party and the BSP.
The decline in the Congresss popularity began in 2008,when its voteshare went down to 40.3 per cent from 48.1 per cent in 2003,and its seat share fell from 47 in 2003 to 43. Despite declining popularity,the Congress managed to win the 2008 polls as the anti-Congress vote was split between the BJP and BSP. The BSP polled 14.1 per cent votes and performed particularly well in 16 constituencies with a sizeable proportion of migrant voters. This years assembly election may be a kind of repeat of 2008. The Congress voteshare might decline further,the partys seat tally may fall,yet the Congress will remain the frontrunner because of the division of the anti-Congress votes.
The Congress has the advantage as,over the years,it has managed to increase its popularity among upper-class voters,besides being the foremost choice of the middle and working classes. This was clearly visible in 2008,when,among upper-class voters,42 per cent voted for the Congress while 44 per cent voted for the BJP. The Congress did suffer losses among the working class and poor voters to the BSP,but a large section of working-class voters voted for it nevertheless. During the 2008 election,39 per cent of poor voters voted for the Congress,32 per cent for the BJP and 19 per cent for the BSP. As rising prices of essential commodities have made the lives of the poor miserable,the forthcoming polls may be a good opportunity for the BSP to mobilise poor voters,who are a sizeable number (one-third of Delhis voters) and large numbers of whom are migrants. However,the BSP has done little to woo them.
Its not only the poor who are unhappy with the Congress. The middle class is equally unhappy. Besides feeling the pinch of price rise,they share an image of the Congress as a corrupt party and see the uptick in crimes against women as a failure of the state government. This could be the best opportunity for the BJP to attack the Congress in order to attract the middle- and upper-class vote. But instead of chalking out a plan to mobilise voters,the BJP is busy with infighting.
What goes to the Congresss advantage is the presence of the AAP,which has the potential to divide the anti-Congress middle- and upper-class votes that otherwise could have gone to the BJP. The AAP may not win seats in this election,but with a few thousand votes in some assembly constituencies,it can play the spoiler,more so as Delhis assembly constituencies are relatively small in size.
The Congress also has a leadership advantage over the BJP. If there is no serious challenge to Dikshit within the Congress,the BJP is finding it hard to build consensus on its chief ministerial candidate. While AAP leader Arvind Kejriwals popularity is increasing in Delhi and he is seen as clean,in the absence of a party presence,he may not be able to do much.
In keeping with the trend of increasing voter turnouts in election after election since the 1998 assembly polls,there is the possibility of an increased turnout this year. Voters belonging to the working and migrant classes,and among Muslims,may register a slightly lower turnout. An increase in turnout among Muslim voters may help the Congress. An increase in turnout among the poor and migrants may help the BSP. During the 2008 election,in 16 constituencies with a sizeable migrant population,the BSP polled 18.9 per cent votes,much above its average voteshare in Delhi. An increase in turnout among middle- and upper-class voters may not favour any party in particular.
All in all,it seems that,at the moment,the Congress is ahead of its rivals in Delhis electoral race. The recent defections to the party from opposition parties,such as former BJP councillor V.K. Monga,BSP MLA Ram Singh Netajai,former NCP MLA Ram Vir Singh Vidhuri,and even independent MLA Asif Mohammad Khan,at least make it appear that the Congress is still the most sought-after party in Delhi. The reason for that can only be its electoral prospects in the upcoming assembly polls.
The writer is a fellow at CSDS,Delhi ,and author of Changing Electoral Politics in Delhi: From Caste to Class