For Aam Admi Party, the bypoll victory in Bawana, north Delhi is an important one beyond being another seat in an assembly already dominated by it. The victory – with a margin of over 24,000 votes – is the party’s first major success in Delhi since the 2015 assembly elections and, they hope, the signs of things to come.
The polls had offered AAP a chance to overturn three key electoral losses — the Punjab and Goa assembly elections and the MCD polls. The BJP, on the other hand had hoped to build on the momentum from the victory in MCD polls. For the Congress, this was a chance to return to the assembly, where they haven’t had any representation since 2015.
According to the Congress candidate, Surender Kumar who was the legislator here from 1998 to 2013, AAP’s victory had a lot to do Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s campaigning in Bawana’s JJ colonies, particularly the largest, Shahbad Dairy.
In fact, the constituency’s political fate has always been determined by a binary between the 26 rural villages that traditionally voted for the BJP and the colonies that grew due to migration from eastern UP and Bihar post 1998.
AAP maintains that in 2017, they were able to circumvent this binary. While many in the JJ clusters and migrant colonies voted for AAP, the “game changer” was AAP’s electoral promise of the ‘Smart Village’ scheme. According to Gopal Rai, this focus on rural villages revolved around the Delhi government’s decision to give “Rs 2 crore to each village annually under the ‘Smart Village’ scheme”. In the case of Bawana, with 26 villages, the amount comes to Rs 52 crore. In comparison, an MLA gets only Rs 4 crore to develop the entire area.
This had been the cornerstone of AAP’s rural campaign: vote not just for the candidate but also the AAP government and what they could potentially do for Bawana’s villages.
The bypoll was necessitated by AAP legislator Ved Parkash quitting the Delhi Assembly just ahead of the municipal polls to join the BJP. Parkash, who had been in the BJP until 2015, fought the assembly polls that year as an AAP candidate after being denied a ticket by his former party.
Although he had consistently maintained that his defection would not have had an impact on the results, with the BJP coming a distant second, followed closely by Congress, many in the party maintained that fielding the former MLA was a “tactical mistake”. One senior BJP leader pointed out that Ved Prakash’s candidature had also led to former candidate Gugan Singh’s defection to the AAP – something that dented the BJP’s prospects here.
The defeat has also brought out into the open many of the underlying tensions within the BJP’s Delhi unit. Fingers are being pointed and questions are being asked: did Manoj Tiwari’s elevation as the face of the Delhi help in the election? Did the reported rift between Tiwari and other senior Delhi BJP leaders worsen the party’s chances?
For now, the BJP finds answers hard to come by. As one senior leader put it, “We will analyze the loss and accordingly plan in the future.”
The Congress’s internal report after polling had predicted an AAP victory, maintained sources. Although the party finished third (something the report had not predicted), the party’s performance in the assembly was described by many leaders as “heartening”.
With the party getting nearly 25 per cent of the votes and finishing less than 4,000 votes behind the BJP, a senior leader explained that “this is not the ideal result, not by far. But it is not a bad result. The party’s vote share has been steadily increasing.”