There is little doubt that the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal is in a stronger position to beat the BJP in the forthcoming Delhi elections than the Congress. This is not so easy for the Congress to accept. After all, its candidates had come second in five out of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha constituencies in the 2019 elections.
What should the Congress prioritise in the Delhi assembly elections? Defeat of the BJP and thereby denying them a chance to claim that the people of the national capital endorse the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), or protecting its own organisational base at the cost of an Aam Aadmi Party defeat, paving the way for a BJP government in Delhi?
There is little doubt that the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal is in a stronger position to beat the BJP in the forthcoming Delhi elections than the Congress. This is not so easy for the Congress to accept. After all, its candidates had come second in five out of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha constituencies in the 2019 elections. It is reasonable for its leaders to claim that, with a little bit more of work, they could reclaim the pole position they have forsaken.
Political choice for Parliament is seen differently by the voters from choice for the assembly. Voters of Orissa had shown this distinction most clearly in the 2019 elections held simultaneously in that state to both Parliament and the state legislature. While voters voted strongly in favour of the local party, the Biju Janata Dal, for the assembly, the majority voted for BJP candidates in the Parliament elections.
In fact, this is the basic premise for Kejriwal’s hope of retaining Delhi. In the Parliament elections, BJP candidates had come out on top in 65 out of 70 assembly segments. If that pattern were to replicate itself in the assembly elections, it would be a walkover for the BJP. But the general mood among Delhi voters would appear to be that Kejriwal has done a good job running the state government, particularly its health and education bits, and thus deserves to be rewarded with a second term.
Against this, the BJP’s campaign plank is to polarise voters, claiming that Shaheen Bagh is a plot to divide the country and that voters must choose a BJP government to secure the integrity of the nation.
For the Congress, while a BJP defeat would be sweet music, a Kejriwal victory that would make that music is not. That would entrench Kejriwal in Delhi and feed his ambition to spread his wings at least to Haryana, Goa and Punjab. Kejriwal fancies himself as a future prime minister and alternative to Modi. Kejriwal has never lost any sleep over the likelihood of AAP candidates dividing the anti-BJP votes and helping the BJP win in states where the battle is more or less between the Congress and the BJP. Why should the Congress not pay him back in his own coin?
Further, in places where the Congress has yielded the space of the principal opposition and slid to the third place, it has never recovered. Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are cases in point. This is the intrinsic nature of politics. Why should a politician with the ambition to hold office stay on with a party that is not in direct contention for power, but is a third choice?
So, from the point of view of its own future prospects, it makes sense for the Congress to finish off the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi by going all out in the assembly elections, as it had in the Parliament elections last May. If it diverts a large enough number of anti-BJP votes to itself, the BJP would sail through, the Aam Aadmi Party would be defeated, once and, probably, for all.
The only hitch is the CAA, an insidious law that derogates the citizenship of Muslims and, in combination with a National Register of Citizens (NRCNSE 2.22 %) that the Union home minister had announced but now has been put off, after the nationwide backlash against it, can strip many of citizenship outright.
People from all walks of life and from all communities have risen up in protest against the law. But Muslims, in particular, have rallied against the law, using the Constitution that promises equality and freedom from discrimination, as their shield. A victory for the BJP in Delhi would be hailed as not just Delhi’s, but the people’s, endorsement of CAA and debunking of the Shaheenbagh protest as a divisive development. BJP’s loss in Delhi would further strengthen anti-CAA protests and strengthen the tendency for India’s minorities to seek defence of their rights in democracy and the Constitution, rather than in patronage by one party or the other.
The BJP does not want the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest, blocking a major road and inconveniencing a lot of people, lifted. Had it wanted, it could have used the Delhi police to remove the peaceful protesters. The BJP wants Shaheen Bagh to continue, to stoke anti-Muslim feeling and the propaganda that it represents a deep-rooted conspiracy to divide India.
A BJP win in Delhi would demoralise not just Shaheen Bagh but Muslims across the country who have reposed their faith in democratic protest. The consequences of shattering that faith would be far worse for India’s polity than the emboldenment of Kejriwal to spread his populist wings outside Delhi.
For India’s sake and its own long-term credibility as a party that puts the nation’s interests above its own, the Congress should prioritise the defeat of BJP in Delhi, even if it means waving AAP through in the forthcoming assembly elections.