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Will Delhi really vote on development and citizenry issues? India — and its political class — await patiently

Most agree bijli-paani, health, education, free bus rides for women, and CCTV cameras, have improved.

Last Updated: Jan 20, 2020, 06.15 AM IST
Delhi Polls
Kejriwal is ensuring that the narrative leading up to the February 8 assembly elections remains focused on local issues, and the achievements of his administration.
By Neerja Chowdhury

Modi to sher hai. Par Dilli main mein Arvind Kejriwal ko vote dene wala hoon.’ (Modi is a tiger. But in Delhi, I’ll be voting for Arvind Kejriwal.) This, from a Dilliwala who had voted Modi in 2014 and 2019. His words seem to sum up the sentiments of many Delhi voters today.

BJP had won all seven seats in the Lok Sabha elections only six months ago. But most people in the Capital seem to be inclined towards returning the seven-year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to power in the state mostly for one reason: ‘Kaam kiya hai’ (He has worked).

Power-Packed Performance?
There are five things almost everyone is listing as a ‘model’ for governance, which have improved their lives: bijlipaani (electricity-water), health, education, free bus rides for women, and CCTV cameras in their colonies. Not belonging to a politically relevant caste — or to a political family — but tied down by spats with the lieutenant governor and the Centre for the first three-and-a-half years of his term, till the Supreme Court restored some of his powers, chief minister Kejriwal is making a bid for power on the basis of the work he has done.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and Maharashtra deputy CM Ajit Pawar have already said that they would like to study and replicate what the Delhi government has done in government schools. I had dropped into a government school in Bhogal, an area in South Delhi that used to be locally referred to as a ‘shit yard’. Today, the tin-sheet structure has been replaced by a threestoried brick building with modern classrooms, clean toilets, a syllabus that includes a ‘happiness’ curriculum, encouraging entrepreneurship among senior students, and awareness of the environment. But most impressive was the confidence exuded by the students, their clarity about what they wanted to become: doctor, lawyer, English teacher, etc. They are mostly children of domestic workers and drivers and the majority were girls.

Kejriwal is ensuring that the narrative leading up to the February 8 assembly elections remains focused on local issues, and the achievements of his administration.

Many voters are especially impressed by the Kejriwal government delivering free electricity under 200 units and free water under 20,000 litres, improvements in mohalla clinics, and to the sea change that has come about in state government schools.

With its leaders privately conceding that it will be a ‘tough fight’, BJP is now pulling out all stops and planning 5,000 small rallies in the city over the next 20 days. Unlike in Jharkhand, the party also plans to go in for alliances — with the Dushyant Chautala-led Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) to reach out to Jats in Delhi’s Jat-dominated areas, and with the Janata Dal (United) in the hope of getting party chief and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar to campaign in the constituencies with large Bihari populations.

BJP also plans to make a bid to get back the support of the bastis (shanties), with the promise of regularising unauthorised colonies, even as many residents remain sceptical of such promises that had also been made by earlier administrations. What the party is doing is trying to shift the poll narrative towards ‘national’ issues, and playing on the irritability of the middle class who can’t use the Kalindi Kunj Road at Shaheen Bagh, which has become a symbol of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests in Delhi.

Vote for Local/National Issues
Shaheen Bagh in south Delhi itself is a new phenomenon, a riposte to those who see only Lutyens’/‘Khan Market’ liberal left lot as the representative of Delhi’s anti-government disaffection.

At Shaheen Bagh, Muslim women, young and old, students and housewives peacefully have been protesting the past few weeks with their children, some of them who had never publicly protested against anything, to demand that they be ‘treated as citizens of India’.

Paranoia or not, this is a sentiment that is palpable in poll-headed Delhi. What will be the political fallout, if these protesters are forcibly removed? Could it lead to a Hindu-Muslim polarisation on the eve of polls?

The high court has asked Delhi Police to ‘look into the matter’. Importantly, Kejriwal has not openly opposed CAA.

Nor did he attend the meeting of opposition leaders against CAA-National Register of Citizens (NRC) called by Congress last week.

Delhi 2020 is essentially a fight between AAP and BJP, with Muslims and scheduled castes (SCs) looking at AAP with favour. It is also about the local versus the national. Unlike AAP, BJP has not projected a chief ministerial candidate. It has declared that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the party’s chief campaigner — yet again.

Even though it accounts for only seven Lok Sabha seats, Delhi’s importance has always been disproportionate to its size as the capital of India. But, this time, the assembly elections are being watched with interest for another reason.

Politicians often lament that no matter what they do by way of projects, programmes and delivery of promises, when it comes to voting, people tend to be swayed by caste, community or other emotional issues. This time, Delhi’s voters are openly and loudly talking about education, health, water and electricity being the benchmark of their decision-making. If this indeed happens on February 8, it will send its own message to the political class across India 2020 and beyond.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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