New Delhi: India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday lost a high-profile assembly election in the state of New Delhi, representing what experts described as a major setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
The incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), launched in November 2012, won 62 seats in the 70-member assembly, nearly repeating its polls performance of five years ago.
In a tweet, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said: “I thank the people of Delhi. It’s the birth of a new political narrative in India which prioritizes performance in politics.”
The election defeat is the second major loss for the BJP in less than two months after it failed to attract enough voters in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.
Modi and Indian Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah were among the big-name leaders campaigning in this year’s Delhi elections, along with the entire Cabinet and more than 300 parliamentarians who had pitched their tents in the capital for a month.
Delhi is not a fully-fledged state, with the federal government controlling the police force, and its legislative assembly has very limited power. But with it being the Indian capital, elections there attract national and international attention.
Nearly 63 percent of Delhi’s voters took part in Saturday’s ballot against the backdrop of the ongoing nationwide protests over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which the BJP fronted as its main election pledge.
The party has been accused of targeting the Muslim community through the law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to become Indian citizens. The BJP has branded protesters against the CAA as anti-national.
One BJP candidate, Kapil Mishra, termed the Delhi election as “a war between India and Pakistan,” while Shah tried to polarize the elections by calling the protest demonstrations “anti-Hindu and an attempt to harm national interests.”
The BJP, however, managed to win only eight Delhi seats — a marginal improvement on its 2015 election results.
A major loser in this year’s poll was the Congress Party, which drew a blank. The party was predominant in Delhi until 2015 and ruled the capital state for more than 15 years.
Some political analysts attribute India’s oldest party’s loss to a tactical election retreat in order to defeat the BJP.
Delhi University student, Khadija Alam, who has been protesting against the CAA for a month, told Arab News that the Delhi election result was “a big morale booster for those who have been fighting to save the soul of India. The BJP needs to be taught a lesson that they cannot divide India and rule.”
Another voter, IT professional Sidhant Saxena, said the AAP victory was “a slap on the BJP’s face and a defeat for the politics of hate.”
BJP activist, Pappu Nirala, said that the defeat was just a “temporary setback,” and added: “Though we lost the election, we retained our vote share. In fact, we improved our vote share from 32 percent to 39 percent this time.”
The BJP has been out of power in Delhi for the past 21 years. It won all the seven parliamentary seats in Delhi in the last general elections in May 2020.
“This is a big setback for the BJP which mobilized all its might and used all legal and illegal methods to win the election,” Dr. Satish Mishra, of the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF) think-tank, told Arab News.
“In one way, the verdict shows that democracy has deep roots. It is the rejection of the division that the BJP has been trying to induce in the Indian society. It is a rejection of polarizing majoritarianism of the Modi regime.”
He added that the BJP’s main electoral plank had been the CAA, and its defeat showed that the “people are not happy with the new citizenship law and the government’s blatant communal politics.”