POST TIME: 19 January, 2020 00:00 00 AM
The coming Delhi Assembly elections
BJP is in the eye of a storm for the protests which have taken place following the implementation of the CAA
Kumkum Chadha

The coming Delhi Assembly elections

The contentious Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA and the National Register of Citizens or NRC protests , which have virtually paralysed India,  will soon be replaced by the election cacophony in the heart of India’s capital city Delhi. Assembly elections here are due in February.

 The single phased voting will take place on February 8. The counting of votes will be conducted on February 11 in the 70 constituencies in the  Delhi Legislative Assembly. The term of the current assembly ends on 22 February 2020. Five years ago, in 2015, the Arvind Kejriwal led AAP or Aam Aadmi Party had won 67 seats while BJP could not cross the single digit mark: it won only three seats.  

This time around despite the 56 inch boast multiplied by presence of BJP supremo and Union Minister Amit Shah’s presence, the scene does not look very bright for the BJP. Two things, if not more, have clouded its fortunes: the first and more important are the recent protests which sparked off in Delhi and spread through the entire country with students in the forefront.

Delhi has witnessed large-scale violent protests, starting near Jamia Millia Islamia University. Since then, the national capital has been witnessing protests -- virtually every day -- either by the student organisations or intellectuals.  

Many have compared the movement to Jayaprakash Narain’s revolt against the Indira Gandhi led Congress government in the seventies which ultimately unseated her from her uninterrupted reign of power.  

It may be recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had way back in 2014 spoken about his having a broad-chest: traditionally considered a sign of  manliness.

 As a Prime Ministerial candidate Modi had said “Do you know what making another Gujarat requires? … It requires a chhappan inch ki chhati (56-inch chest),” he had declared thumping his chest and broadening it even more. The chest rant was not Modi’s first. After winning the 2007 Gujarat assembly elections, too, he had boasted about his ‘sizeable’ chest.

He was then hitting out at Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav during a rally in Saharanpur town:,  “You can’t make a Gujarat” he had then told Yadav,  “That needs a chappan inch ki chhaati [56-inch chest].”

 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah kept the issue alive by referring to it now and then. At an election rally last year, Shah said that  Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown he is a man with a “56-inch chest” by destroying terrorist hideouts in Pakistan.  

 The chest remark has haunted Modi ever since. Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi recently took a jibe for his boasting about his “56-inch chest”. She reportedly said: “You boasted about your 56-inch chest, but where is your heart?” she had said at a rally  in Uttar Pradesh recently.  

Statistics apart, the BJP is in the eye of a storm for the protests which have taken place following the implementation of the CAA and fears of NRC. Apart from protests turning violent with buses being torched and students and activists across the country lending their support to the movement,the BJP seems to have lost ground. Worse still, the Government’s arrogance and no signs of a climb down and its bid to kill dissent at every level has earned it a disrepute it could easily avoided.

 Even while the protests were well underway and tempers were high, the Centre uploaded the gazette notification for the Act  ensuring that it  comes into play with immediate effect.

 That the Government is adamant is crystal-clear: more so because Union Home Minister Amit Shah had categorically stated that there would be no roll back. Speaking to mediapersons, Shah had said there would be no retraction by "even an inch": something that did not go down well with the people in general and protestors in particular.  

That apart, BJP functionaries, and consequential ones at that, have stated that the reconsideration of the CAA is "non-negotiable" as it involves "credibility of Prime Minister Modi's word to the refugees".  

That apart, what the BJP also needs to worry about is the performance of the AAP which by many accounts  is above the mark. And that is the second reason for the BJP to have sleepless nights.

 The performance of AAP is by average standards commendable and therefore it can easily rest on its laurels.  

Delhi Assembly election is a closely contested three-dimensional political battle. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party will be in a much contested battle with the BJP and the Congress. While the BJP has not been able to wrest Delhi since 1998, as against this the  Congress formed three consecutive governments in Delhi under late Sheila Dikshit.

Even while the Congress is pretending to be gung-ho, the ground reality is that its chances are slim.

However, the Congress is expected to do well in areas where anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests were intense. The visits by Congress leaders such as Salman Khurshid to protesters’ camps have generated  goodwill for the Congress particularly among Muslim, who are a dominating factor in some constituencies  and  may influence electoral outcome in a handful of seats.

 Pitch both the Congress and the BJP  against Kejriwal’s good governance and Kejriwal telling Delhi’s voters to vote for the AAP only if they are convinced his government has worked for them in the last five years. His government, as is well known, has given free water, cheaper electricity, no hike in school fees and better-managed government hospitals which are enough reasons for him to believe that AAP rides a popularity wave. As of now it seems that AAP will stage  a comeback maybe with a reduced strength.  

Even while the BJP is banking heavily on Modi’s personal popularity, the chances appear grim because of the recent protests and his giving a free hand to Shah’s dictatorial and anti -people policies and also because more often than not, the electorate votes differently in state and assembly elections. Modi sure is popular nationally but whether the Delhi voter will pitch for him when it comes to governance in Delhi remains to be seen. They are adept at making a clear distinction between a Prime Minister who rules the nation and Chief Minister who will rule the state and on this count it is Kejriwal who fits the bill.

 Traffic jam and pollution are two major worries for residents of Delhi but they are unlikely to dent AAP’s prospects in the forthcoming elections. AAP projects itself as a party for the poor and neither traffic jams nor pollution is of any consequence in that strata. While talking of the middle class where these two issues could be a factor, the other two CAA and NRC have overtaken them making the going easy for AAP.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: ([email protected])