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Delhi MCD polls: Will bipolar contest replace 3-way fight?

While the rich and poor, women and men have different perceptions of the AAP, the party appears to have an edge heading into the civic body polls, finds a survey by CSDS-Lokniti.

AAP is hoping to win based on its performance since coming to power in Delhi. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

As AAP strives to emerge as a national alternative to the BJP, the MCD election has assumed national importance. AAP is hoping to win based on its performance since coming to power in Delhi. With the polls days away, what does the mood of the voter in Delhi appear to indicate? CSDS-Lokniti conducted a survey to assess citizen perceptions on the performance of the government and their emerging preferences. Key trends around the time of the study (see method) reveal interesting trends.

The political landscape of Delhi seems to have completely changed even with regard to how people intend to vote for the MCD polls. The contest in 2012 was bi-polar, between the Congress and the BJP, when the latter took a massive lead. The nature of contest changed from bi-polar to a three-cornered contest between the BJP, AAP and the Congress (in 2017) with BJP again leading the race (table 1).

Estimates from the survey indicate that the political mood and preference seems to have changed. It seems the upcoming election will witness a straight fight between the AAP and the BJP, with the Congress appearing to have been relegated to a distant third. In the competition between the two, AAP appears to be ahead of the BJP (table 2).

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When it comes to making a choice as also to assess AAP’s performance, there seems to be a clear divide emerging between voters: Those from upper caste backgrounds, those in the upper half bracket in terms of class and residents of relatively well-off localities of Delhi are inclined to less favourably assess the AAP and are more likely to choose the BJP. The lower half of the social hierarchies tilt toward the AAP.

The BJP is trying to win the support of Hindu upper castes; though a significant proportion of voters from Hindu upper castes preferred AAP and other parties. The support base for AAP was higher than the BJP among other castes. In other religious groups, AAP seems to be leading with wider support as three in five voters from Muslim communities and close to two in three voters from other religious minorities preferred voting for AAP; though over one fourth of Muslim voters preferred Congress (table 3).

AAP also had a greater connect with voters from lower income groups — it drew most of its support from the poor and lower classes. While the AAP is challenging the BJP by attracting voters from middle and rich classes, it is clearly way ahead of the BJP among the poor and the lower income sections (table 4).

Women voters are more inclined towards the AAP; half of them said they would vote for AAP in the MCD election whereas 37% preferred voting for the BJP. A little over one-fifth of men said they would vote for other parties or candidates (table 5).

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As the more specific write-ups demonstrate, there is an overall positive assessment on various governance parameters as far as the AAP is concerned. Surely, the AAP has raised expectations and as a result, a little more negative or critical assessment is witnessed compared to 2020. Asked about the performance of government schools in Delhi, two thirds asserted it had improved while two years ago, three fourths had seen an improvement. It is interesting that even among those who said they would vote for the BJP and the Congress, more than half conceded that the working of schools had improved.

On the conditions of government hospitals too, while there continued to be appreciation for work done by the Delhi government, it was much more guarded (as compared to the response in 2020). Three of every 10 felt it has deteriorated as compared to before. Even on the question of water supply and sanitation, there continued to be appreciation, though the intensity of a positive endorsement has fallen by 20 percentage points as compared to 2020. The same was the response on power supply.

There was clear visible endorsement of the Delhi government’s achievements. Yet, there was also a clear decline in the intensity of the applause. In sum, AAP was at the peak of its popularity and a positive assessment in 2020 and the BJP would certainly be trying to tap the comparatively disgruntled voters.

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Ordinarily, there is no necessary connect between assessment of state government and assessment of the same party for local governance. This is because of the variation in local issues and state level issues. However, given Delhi’s governance structure and the overlap between the so-called state and local levels of governance, a positive assessment of the AAP at the ‘state’ level is definitely its major asset for the MCD polls. At the same time, being the Capital city, proximity to larger issues of national politics and deep rivalries emanating from that are equally bound to affect at least the more educated voters. This is evidenced by the continued popularity of PM Narendra Modi, notwithstanding the positive assessment of AAP’s performance.

In that sense, the MCD election is becoming a dual test: a test of governance and a test of the mood of Delhi’s residents vis-à-vis larger issues being raised by AAP and BJP about each other and about national policies.

(Sandeep Shastri is the Vice Chancellor at Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal & National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti network; Sanjay Kumar is a Professor and Co-director Lokniti-CSDS & Suhas Palshikar taught political science and is chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics).

First published on: 02-12-2022 at 04:35 IST
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