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Election setback for Indian ruling party in Delhi

Arvind Kejriwal, AAP chief minister, greeting crowds after his victory in Delhi.
Arvind Kejriwal, AAP chief minister, greeting crowds after his victory in Delhi. Murali Krishnan

Riding on its development agenda, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has romped home to a resounding victory in the Delhi assembly elections to retain power for a third term.


After a bitterly fought election, the AAP won a thumping 62 of the 70 seats, while the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to win just 8 seats and Congress drew a blank.

The high voltage election campaign was marked with bitterness and hate speeches to polarise the atmosphere in the national capital along religious lines that finally led voters to reject the ruling BJP.

A rejection of hate politics

While AAP focused on fixing state-run schools and providing free healthcare, the BJP was accused of running a campaign based on religious polarisation, with many of its leaders targeting the Muslim community, who form a little more than 10 percent of the capital's population.

“The party’s victory was a win for governance and a defeat of hatred. People saw through the BJP’s designs,” AAP’s candidate, Amanatullah Khan told RFI.

Frantic to wrench victory from the hands of the ruling anti-corruption AAP, the BJP used every ploy to stir the electoral pot to polarise voters and position the Delhi assembly election beyond the national capital to engage the party’s cadre and hardcore supporters with its national vision for the country.

“Finally, hate speeches, guns, bullets, fear-mongering and targeting Muslims backfired so badly. People saw through their disruptive narrative and democracy has won,” AAP’s spokesperson Jasmine Shah told RFI.

Thanking voters after a hard-fought election, AAP chief, Arvind Kejriwal, who will be sworn in for a third time, described the win as “a victory of the people of Delhi” and said the “politics of work” had taken root in Delhi.

Political analysts said much of the BJP’s campaign has sought to divide on the basis of religion, in the hope of consolidating Hindu voters behind it - a tactic that has worked for the party in other states, especially the 2019 general elections that saw it win a huge majority in parliament.

“It was the dirtiest election campaign witnessed ever in India’s electoral history. It was toxic and I hope there is some introspection in the BJP that will not wash with people,” said political analyst Sudheendra Kulkarni.

A controversial citizenship law

The top leadership of the BJP saw the Delhi election as a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity after months of fiery protests against the controversial citizenship law which was widely criticized as discriminatory.

Many Muslims feared it could be used with its sinister twin, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), to harass and disenfranchise them.

For over two months, Delhi has been the centre-stage of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

In the election campaign, AAP highlighted its developmental work over the last five years, positioning itself as a party of governance, with pro-poor, pro-welfare policies – a message that seems to be working.

Analysts believe that when it seemed like the election campaign was slipping away, the BJP cranked up its Hindu nationalism and anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

Since Modi’s ascension to power in 2014, a climate of intolerance has reigned where minorities have often faced the brunt.

In June last year, US State Department released its international religious freedom report, which painted a dark picture of the situation for religious minorities in India.

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