Does Recent Defection Reflect AAP's Hold in Delhi?

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led union cabinet recommending the dissolution of the Delhi Assembly and setting the stage for fresh polls soon, political leaders have started hopping from one party to another with reports coming in about two AAP MLAs joining the BJP, a day after JDU legislator Shoaib Iqbal joined the Congress. Both the national parties have stepped up effort to corner AAP with these inductions ahead of upcoming Delhi assembly polls.

By inducting Shoaib Iqbal who is a known party hopper the Congress is making an attempt to retain its relevance in the Delhi politics. If the joining ceremony is seen, it was attended by senior Congress leaders Shakeel Ahmed and Delhi Congress chief Arvinder Singh Lovely. The grand old party had received a severe drubbing in the May 2014 general elections in which it was even denied the opposition space by the AAP, as the Arvind Kejriwal led party and the BJP contest threw it to the third position in all the seven parliamentary seats.

The induction is very important and symbolic as out of the eight seats that the Congress won in December 2013 assembly elections four were so called Muslim seats – Ballimaran, Mustafabad, Seelampur and Okhla. In the May 2014 parliamentary elections the Congress had trailed in all these seats and AAP had gained in these seats at the cost of the Congress party, setting the mood of the electorates in these seats that AAP is more capable of fighting the BJP than the Congress.

The induction of Iqbal is a message to the rest of the Delhi population and primarily the Muslims that the party is still relevant to the Delhi politics and the minorities should not shun the grand old party for AAP. Iqbal is a five time MLA who had stayed with Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and even Lok Janshakti Party and had won the December 2013 assembly elections primarily due to his own influence in the Matia Mahal legislative assembly where the historically important Jama Masjid also exists. Iqbal may retain his seat as both the councillors, his son Mohammad Iqbal and nephew Khurram Iqbal too joined the grand old party at the AICC headquarters in Delhi.

Iqbal had earlier offered to join the AAP after last year’s assembly election and even desired to fight the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls on the AAP ticket but the move could not materialize. The entry of Iqbal may marginally boost the chances of the Congress at least in some so called Muslim seats. The challenge before the Congress is to keep itself as a relevant political force in Delhi where politics is more about class than caste. The Congress will not be fighting to win the upcoming Delhi polls but will be happy if at least it is able to defend its eight seats it won in the last December 2013 assembly elections. In the general election which was conducted amid a “Modi wave” Congress failed to lead in any of the 70 assembly segments and its vote share plummeted to a new low of just 15.1 per cent.

The Congress had secured a vote share of 24.55 per cent in the December 2013 Delhi assembly polls which came down to 15.1 per cent in the May, 2014 Lok Sabha election. The BJP had notched 33.07 per cent vote share (32 seats) in the assembly polls. It increased to 46.1 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls with all the seven seats coming to its kitty with over one lakh margin. The AAP’s vote share also marginally increased from 29.9 per cent in assembly polls to 32.9 per cent in the general elections but it did not win any single seat. The BJP at this stage appears to be sitting pretty strong in Delhi as the difference between its vote share and AAP’s vote share in May 2014 general elections was 13 per cent. The AAP will need an extraordinary swing of votes to match the performance of the BJP which led in at least 60 assembly segments.

Amid these figures and data, the entry of Iqbal is very important and much needed for the Congress party, which is facing a stiff challenge from the AAP and the BJP to retain those eight seats which it had won in the last year’s assembly polls.

The BJP since last many months had been claiming that many AAP MLAs were desperate to join its rank but such defections did not take place. With the elections in Delhi set to take place it inducted MS Dhir, Speaker of the outgoing Delhi assembly, who was ruled out by AAP for ticket from Jangpura seat. Another AAP MLA Harish Khanna is also seat to join the saffron party.

The delaying of elections by the BJP led central government after Arvind Kejriwal resigned from the post of chief minister and these inductions from AAP may indicate that BJP may not be very confident to replicate its performance in the upcoming assembly polls as it did in the May 2014 general elections of leading in 60 assembly segments, otherwise it would have soon announced the Delhi assembly polls after conclusion of the general election. This is despite the party forming government in neighboring Haryana after performing exceptionally well in the assembly elections few months. It was only after Supreme Court reprimand to the central government and lieutenant governor that the process of assembly dissolution was taken up.

The BJP it seems too gives serious credence to slogans like “Modi for PM, Arvind for CM” in Delhi, even as nationally Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to enjoy popularity among the electorates as was reflected from election results in Haryana and Maharashtra.

The AAP is again attempting to set the agenda for Delhi polls by initiating Delhi Dialogue with people of Delhi to know their concerns but the biggest challenge for the AAP is how to again portray itself as a multi-class urban party, where people of even upper elite class Hindu localities like New Friends Colony had voted for it in the last assembly elections. In the May 2014 parliamentary elections rich class dominated NFC voted more in favor of the BJP.

The Somnath Bharti vigilantism against some African women in Khirki Extension in his Malviya Nagar constituency and Arvind Kejriwal’s subsequent dharna (sit-in-protest) had led to a section of educated and elite class shifting away from it, though the party may have consolidated some support in the lower class segment owing to its stand against the Delhi Police. The AAP will try to sell its 49-day rule in Delhi where it performed reasonable in parameters of governance but it is still viewed by a section of Delhi population as a party which ran away from running the government in Delhi for Lok Sabha ambitions. The AAP may justify quitting government over lack of numbers in the state assembly but the way it had handled the resignation issue it had reflected political naivety and inexperience.

The non-confidence of BJP also stems from the fact that names of some of its leaders had cropped in whipping passions in Trilokpuri, a lower middle class and lower class assembly segment in Delhi, where Hindu-Muslim communal clashes took place in October during Diwali. Such polarizing tricks were also applied in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh ahead of Lok Sabha elections which had paid electorally rich dividends to the saffron party.

The upcoming assembly elections slated to take place earlier next year would see an interesting contest with the BJP powered by the personality cult of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but bereft of any leader comparable to the stature of Avind Kejriwal in Delhi while the Congress would be fighting the battle to retain its relevance in Delhi politics. It would be interesting to see how much “Modi magic” boosts the electoral prospects of the BJP in Delhi because it is yet to put a credible face in Delhi to challenge Arvind Kejriwal. The BJP would be judged in Delhi by the performance of Modi government. If in the next three months the saffron party is able to sustain “Modi magic” it will have a positive impact on the electorates in Delhi. But on the other hand there are too many claimants to chief minister’s post in Delhi from BJP- Vijay Goel, Harshvardhan, Jagdish Mukhi and even now Smriti Irani. Name of former IPS officer Kiran Bedi too crops up time to time.