Focusing on beneficiaries of its government’s schemes, making Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal the face of its campaign, and promising a ‘double engine’ of its own with the same party ruling the state and the civic body – these are the key factors that helped the Aam Aadmi Party cross the halfway mark in the MCD elections.
To be sure, the BJP had an uphill task – it faced immense anti-incumbency after being in power for three terms; it lacked a state leader whose popularity could match Kejriwal’s; and the MCD under it was unable to shake the perception of being steeped in corruption and marred by inefficiency. And yet, on counting day, it managed to give AAP an early morning scare before eventually falling behind.
As one senior AAP leader put it, the victory was “anything but a walkover”. “It was six months of intense work. Their (BJP’s) tally would have been lower had it not been for their negative campaigning – talking not of garbage but of sharaab (referring to the excise policy case). Their narrative worked in posh areas, and there the BJP anyway has a support base that needs a narrative to vote for the party. Eventually, though, the charges didn’t stick.”
This distinction – between upscale neighbourhoods where RWAs reign supreme, and poorer parts of the city where problems are more grounded – was also highlighted by another AAP legislator, who said that the former are more likely to be influenced by “noise on TV”, and since the MCD elections don’t generate the same sort of “noise” that Assembly or Lok Sabha polls do, more affluent neighbourhoods tend to give them a miss.
Data from the Delhi State Election Commission is testimony to this, indicating that upscale neighbourhoods of South Delhi saw the lowest voter turnout in Sunday’s polling, while rural pockets and parts of Northeast Delhi saw the highest polling percentages.
Poorer neighbourhoods – unauthorised colonies, JJ clusters, and rural villagers – are also where a bulk of those who benefit from the Delhi government’s schemes, from electricity subsidy to free bus rides for women, reside. “People here know only the Kejriwal government works for them,” said another AAP legislator.
In fact, a senior BJP leader too acknowledged his party’s “failure of imagination” when it came to countering the AAP. “We had nothing new to offer to those already benefiting from Kejriwal’s schemes. For a person working in Delhi and sending money back to his village, Rs 2,000 saved on electricity, Rs 1,000 saved on bus travel – it all adds up,” he said. “If we are to defeat him (Kejriwal), we have to play on his turf.”
The campaign’s focus on the marginalised, though, went hand in hand with another promise the AAP had for middle-class neighbourhoods – having the same councillor and MLA in your area would make it easier to get your problems addressed. “Colonies where RWAs function, they would often find themselves stuck between our MLAs and BJP councillors,” said an AAP leader, explaining that the slogan, ‘Kejriwal ki sarkar, Kejriwal ka parshad’, was framed keeping these voters in mind. “Once they realise their voices will be heard more easily, they forget about ideology,” he said.
Almost all party leaders said that two civic issues resonated in almost all neighbourhoods – garbage and broken roads. “We made sure to keep the focus on these, particularly sanitation and cleanliness,” said a legislator, adding that another factor that put pressure on the BJP was relentless press conferences on such issues by the AAP. “Between April 2020 and the polls, we held 800-plus press conferences. That definitely dented their morale.”
Another party leader summed things up: “People were ready to vote out the BJP. Eventually, they decided, let’s just give everything to Kejriwal.”