On February 10, the highly anticipated results of the Delhi State Assembly elections in India were announced. It was a rousing victory for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Arvind Kejriwal, as they won 67 of the 70 assembly seats. Though Delhi is the capital of India and its elections are always closely watched, this year’s elections were widely seen as a referendum on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi since their win in the 2014 general elections. The Indian National Congress, which had been the one of the most dominant parties since independence, failed to win any seats. They performed so poorly that 63 out of 70 of its candidates forfeited their deposits, which candidates must put down in order to run and are only returned to them if they win ⅙ of the total vote.
Kejriwal’s career as a politician was in question when he resigned last year from his position as Delhi’s chief minister. The AAP was founded to combat the widespread corruption in Indian politics and after the Assembly failed to pass an anti-corruption bill under his watch, Kejriwal resigned, which is why this win is a somewhat of a comeback for him and his party’s message. After winning the election, Kejriwal promised to make Delhi corruption free-in the next five years, which would be the end of his first full term. Kejriwal also addressed religious violence and stated that it must be stopped, something that the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, and its allies have ties to.
The face of the BJP campaign was Kiran Bedi. She was the first woman to be a police officer in the Indian Police Service and served many positions in Delhi, such as Director General and Inspector General. She was also part of the anti-corruption movement with Kejriwal in 2011 before the AAP was formed and she joined the BJP. She ran for what was considered a safe seat for the BJP, making the party’s loss sting even more. One of the reasons for the BJP’s loss may have been that that Bedi was seen as a relative outsider for the seat she ran for while Kejriwal was extremely popular in Delhi, and polls showed that many people voted for the AAP just to support Kejriwal.
Aside from Bedi, why did the BJP lose and what does this mean for their future? The BJP ran a largely negative campaign which painted Kejriwal as someone who ran away from his position instead of really spotlighting their own candidates and platforms. The election could also be seen as a show of frustration with Modi’s party for not implementing the changes they promised during the 2014 general election. This election puts more pressure on the central government to enact policies that will help the majority of Indians, as the AAP’s base is mostly made up of low-income voters who want to see income equality addressed. However, this is not a complete repudiation of the BJP because it will be hard for this sort of shift to occur in other states. It is just a suggestion from the voters of Delhi that the BJP must do something differently.
It remains to be seen whether the AAP’s win will actually lead to a reduction in corruption, especially in a country which ranks higher in corruption than many non-democracies and where a history of corruption may actually give a candidate a better chance at being elected. However, at this point in time, the people of Delhi spoke and they put their power in the hands of the man who may have the best chance of combating corruption.
Featured image source: IndiaToday.InToday.in, February 2015